Paul Boyd is a sports reporter for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was voted Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2018.
Razorbacks happy to be home after long road trip
Arkansas coach Courtney Deifel watches from the third-base coaches box against Southeast Missouri Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, during the fourth inning at Bogle Park on the university campus in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — University of Arkansas softball Coach Courtney Deifel said her team made the best of a wild weekend on the road, but she is looking forward to the comforts of home.
The No. 24 Razorbacks host North Dakota State this afternoon in Bogle Park for a doubleheader in their home opener.
The forecast calls for temperatures in the low 50s for the 3 p.m. game That’s quite a change from a week ago when winter weather blanketed the entire region.
Arkansas (5-2) overcame some travel difficulties to win five of six games. The Razorbacks were supposed to play in a tournament in Arlington, Texas, but that event was scrapped. Instead, they participated in an event at McNeese State in Lake Charles, La.
They also worked in two games at Texas-Arlington on Monday.
“We had to kind of scramble to get our [covid-19] testing squared away and change all our travel plans,” said Deifel, who is in her sixth season at Arkansas. “When we left on Friday, we just hit a lot of obstacles on our way down to Lake Charles.
“We’re ecstatic to be home and not be on a bus for hours. I know we’ll be challenged, but we’re ready for that.”
The normal nine-hour bus trip turned into a 27-hour ordeal. The Razorbacks pulled into Lake Charles about three hours before their scheduled 3:30 p.m. doubleheader against McNeese State was to begin.
Arkansas then went out and won a 14-inning marathon in the first game before dropping the nightcap.
“It was a long trip,” Deifel said. “We found different ways to win. Winning that first 14-inning game shows a ton of character.”
Mary Haff was outstanding in the circle for the Razorbacks. She went 3-1 with a save while allowing 3 earned runs over 20 innings over the weekend, including a complete-game victory over then-No. 18 Baylor. Haff also pitched 82/3 innings of shutout relief in the 14-inning game.
“We had some obstacles … just the adrenaline of just getting to play pushed all of us to be able to do it,” Haff said.
She received plenty of support from the Arkansas offense.
The Razorbacks hit 15 home runs over the six games, including three by freshman Hannah Gammill and four by junior Linnie Malkin, who also leads the team with 10 RBI. Senior center fielder Keely Huffine added three home runs out of the nine-hole in the batting order.
Having that kind of support is comforting for a pitcher, Haff said.
“It’s nice to know that no matter what, you can go out and pitch freely and know your offense is going to have your back,” Haff said.
Pitcher Autumn Storms, a preseason all-SEC selection, could see more innings this weekend. She is slowly coming back from a back injury. Storms didn’t get a decision last weekend, pitching 81/3 innings while allowing 4 earned runs and striking out 8
“Hopefully we’ll see her more,” Deifel said. “But we’ll take it really slow and be really smart how we use her.
Deifel (147-109) needs three wins to become the second coach in program history to reach 150. Carrie Dever-Boaz went 244-274-1 from 1997-2004 and attained her 150th win in 312 games. Deifel has coached 256 games so far.
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