@LATechSB Hosts UTSA in C-USA Series This Weekend
April 12, 2018
RUSTON, La. -- When Louisiana Tech hosts UTSA in a three-game Conference USA series at the Lady Techster Softball Complex this weekend, it will provide an interesting match-up as the two teams pit strength against strength.
Saturday's doubleheader starts at 2 p.m. while Sunday's single game is set for 1 p.m. Admission is free.
LA Tech (24-17, 10-5 C-USA) enters the weekend on an eight-game winning streak, the longest since 2015, including six straight league victories, the second longest in program history. Tech sits in a first place tie in the league standings entering the weekend.
UTSA (16-19, 5-7 C-USA) has dropped seven of its last nine games, although all seven losses have come by three runs or less. The Roadrunners are in fourth place in the West Division.
One of the main reasons for LA Tech's recent success -- and over the past two years -- has been the Lady Techsters patient approach at the plate. Tech ranks No. 1 in C-USA in walks drawn this year with 165 and is the only league team that has more walks drawn than times struck out at the plate (165-151).
This isn't by accident. The Lady Techsters went almost the entire 2017 season with the same accomplishment, finishing the year with 229 walks drawn to 234 strikeouts.
No, it is not a coincidence. It is something Tech head coach Mark Montgomery preaches on a daily basis.
"I think first-and-foremost it is a philosophical approach," said Montgomery, who picked up his 500th career win Sunday against Charlotte. "Walks mean baserunners, and you need baserunners to score. There is a balance between that and taking aggressive swings. However if you swing aggressively at strikes and take pitches out of the zone then your chances of success go way up.
"Secondly, we use V-Flex as a training tool to teach our brains what pitches are strikes and what pitches are not. This allows us to execute better, swinging at pitches that we can hit hard."
Tech's plus walk-to-strikeout total this year is even more impressive after dissecting its non-conference slate, ranking among the Top 25 hardest in the country according to the most recent NCAA RPI released Monday. The Lady Techsters have played 10 games against Top 50 teams, seven vs. Top 25, and a total of 16 against the top 100 and have faced some of the top arms.
Entering this weekend, four LA Tech players rank in the top 10 in Conference USA in walk to strikeout totals, including No. 1 and No. 2 in junior Morgan Turkoly and sophomore Kimmie Atienza. Taria Page and Katie Smith are also among the top 10.
"I think picking out a good pitch to hit is one of the most important aspects of being successful at the plate," said Turkoly, who has drawn 26 walks and only struck out seven times all season. "Being able to swing at strikes and take pitches outside the zone is something we as a team are really big on, and I think that's what makes our walk to strikeout ratio so good.
"I think as a hitter taking what the other team gives you is all you can do, and if that means drawing a walk instead of getting the big hit than that's what you have to do. My job is just to get on base in whatever way I can. So being patient at the plate is something I have really tried to improve on every year since I have been here. Coach Montgomery always talks about how free passes are more likely to score so I think drawing the walk puts more pressure on defenses than people realize."
It is one reason the Sanger, Texas, native ranks No. 1 in Conference USA in on-base percentage with an eye-popping .520 percentage. She also ranks among the league leaders in batting average, runs scored, walks and total bases.
Atienza has found a home in the leadoff role for Louisiana Tech over the past nine games. It is also no coincidence that Tech has won eight of nine games during that span as the Texarkana, Texas, native has reached base in 22 of 36 at bats (..611 on-base percentage) while recording 11 hits, 11 walks and a team-high 13 runs.
"My approach at the plate is getting the pitcher to throw as many pitches she can at me before I either walk or put the ball in play," said Atienza. "I go in looking for pitches I can handle and looking at how she throws pitches, following the movement, picking up on her change up, and figuring out what the umpires strike zone is. The more pitches I see in my first at bat, the more information I can relay to my teammates.
"First at bats are hard and being lead off can be challenging, but if I can turn my failures into success for others, then I've done my part as lead off."
Montgomery and Co. have seen the walks turn into runs during a season that saw Tech get off to a slow offensive start. However, over the past nine games, Tech has plated seven runs or more in six games due to a combination of patience and aggressiveness at the plate.
In Tech's three-game sweep over Charlotte last weekend, the Lady Techsters drew a total of 23 walks from 49ers pitchers -- 13 of the 23 came around to score in a series that saw Tech outscore Charlotte 33-10.
"That's why we use V-Flex, in order to train our brains," said Montgomery. "It is counterintuitive to be both patient and aggressive at the same time, so training requires some assistance. It also takes the players buy in, and understanding that they need to train, not panic, and remember it just takes one pitch to get a hard it. It doesn't matter whether that's the first pitch in an at bat or the sixth one."
Tech's patience at the plate will be test this weekend against UTSA. The Roadrunners are far-and-away the best staff in the league as far as issuing the fewest free passes. Through 35 games, UTSA pitchers have walked just 49 batters in 232.2 innings of action -- the next closest is Middle Tennessee's staff with 87 walks and LA Tech is third with just 90.
Senior Lizzy Fox is the ace for UTSA. Fox enters the weekend with a 10-8 record and a 2.01 earned run average, issuing just 24 walks in 121.2 innings of action. Freshman Madison Nelson is the No. 2 for the Roadrunners, sporting a 5-11 record with a 3.70 ERA with just 18 walks in 98 innings.
"Lizzy just does a good job of being composed and hitting her spots," said Montgomery. "She isn't overpowering like some other good pitchers, but she stays in control and executes. That gives her a chance to be successful every time she takes the circle."
UTSA leads the all-time series against LA Tech 19-5, including a 7-3 record in Ruston.
Fans can watch all three games streamed live with a paid subscription to CUSATV.com or they can tune in for the free audio broadcast on the Louisiana Tech X mobile app.
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