Well-rounded UHV softball team ready for NAIA title run

UHV softball opens the NAIA softball championship Thursday at noon against Central Methodist.

PHOTO GALLERY: MEET THE 2012 UHV JAGUARS AND SEE HOW THEY DID THIS YEAR.

Softball consists of three aspects: Hitting, pitching and fielding.

Consistently producing in each area, the UHV Jaguars limited their loses to single digits this season, while continually hovering around the upper half of the NAIA Softball Coaches' Top 25 poll.

But UHV head coach Keri Lambeth believes excelling in the game's fundamentals are only partially responsible for the Jaguars' success.

There is an undefinable force at work, according to the coach, and its existence is the secret to the team's standout showing as it prepares to compete at the NAIA Championships for the first time since 2009.

"It's not only just all three of those areas working, it's also just the really unique team feel that we have," Lambeth said. "And when all four of those areas are working, it is just dynamite."

While the intangible will not win the Jaguars a national championship, players agree team chemistry and trust has a direct correlation to their collective performance on the diamond.

"It is really comforting, especially when I'm out there on the mound," senior pitcher Emily Bergstrom said. "I have complete confidence in all my defense. No matter where the ball is hit, I know they are going to take care of it.

"Hitting as well, we all have confidence in each other. So, if someone doesn't get their job done when they go up to bat, we know the next person behind can help out."

The No. 11 Jaguars (39-8 overall) will need every advantage possible as they open pool play at Gulf Shores, Ala.

Competing in Pool F, UHV plays Central Methodist (40-12) Thursday at noon, Indiana Wesleyan (44-11) Friday at 5:30 p.m. and William Carey (47-9) Saturday at 3 p.m. in an attempt to be one of eight teams to advance to double-elimination bracket play beginning Monday. William Carey and Central Methodist are ranked sixth and 20th, respectively.

But the Jaguars' stats prove they can compete with most teams.

In Division I, UHV ranks 14th in putouts per game (20.4) and innings pitched per game (6.8), 24th in hits per game (9.1), 28th in runs per game (5.6) and 44th in opponents batting average (.242).

Individually, six players have recorded at least 35 hits and 25 RBIs, while eight players have a fielding percentage of .950 or better.

The combination of camaraderie and skill has bred confidence within the program.

"We're well rounded," designated player Ashley Shannon said. "We have the talent, we have the heart and we have the drive to get it done."

UHV's RBI leader Marley Moehrig agrees.

"If we continue to do like we have been this entire season, it shouldn't be any problem," the outfielder said. "We played William Carey last time we were in Alabama, so, hopefully, that will help us when we play them again."

In March, the Jaguars won the gold bracket of the Orange Beach Gulf Shores Invitational - an Alabama-based tournament set up almost identically to the NAIA Championships - defeating William Carey 8-7 en route to the title.

The trip was a defining moment in the Jaguars' season.

"When we saw our highest level of playing and all the potential we had together, I think it was like an aha moment," Bergstrom said.

UHV lost four regular season games following the tournament as the squad found its ideal balance of mechanics and chemistry.

"When you travel on a bus for 16 hours together, you learn a lot of things about each other," Lambeth said. "We had a good team bonding experience."

Additionally, the team discovered there is more to softball than just hitting, pitching and fielding.