The University of Central Arkansas softball team could qualify for some kind of frequent-travel perk.
After last week’s trip to Starkville, Miss., the Bears have logged about 3,700 bus miles (70 hours) plus six hours by plane on the way to a 23-11 mark. The Bears have played in temperatures from 90 degrees to near freezing.
"It’s ridiculous," laughed UCA coach David Kuhn, who notched his 600th career victory in 18 years of coaching (at Delta State and UCA) in only their 11th home game against Jackson State on Tuesday night. "That’s evey year in our league. You travel to warmer weather, to play good teams and there is a lot of travel in our conference. But our players are tough and have handled it well.
"The players still lift weights twice a week and sometimes we leave in late afternoon so they don’t miss as much class time."
After an early season loss to Mississippi State in a tourney in Louisiana, the Bears came back last week to shut out the Bulldogs, then 25th-ranked, last week in Starkville.
"We’ve played a tough non-conference schedule," said Kuhn. "Sometimes, in these tournaments, you don’t know who you will be playing until September, October or November. You just hope your confidence is not totally destroyed.
"For us it has been the old adage of good pitching and defense, the age-old recipe for success. We have not hit well just yet. I think we can score runs and our offense will come around."
It did when needed during a 12-11 victory Saturday in a conference series with Abilene Christian. The Bears battled in a back-and-forth, 12-inning game against the Wildcats in which the Bears came from behind five times, including a 9-5 deficit in the 11th.
"The best word to describe us is resilient; we don’t quit," said Kuhn. "We have six seniors and they have a lot of experience. We’ve been down before and it doesn’t bother us. It’s just good group of players. Whatever ‘it’ is, we’ve got ‘it’ right now."
Seniors Jessie Taylor, Amy Gunnells, Sarah Bigej and Sam Forrest have been starters and involved in a lot of victories.
Lindsay Elliott, who is not a starter, has hit two pinch-hit homer runs.
"Some of our seniors may be pressing a bit to make their senior year great," Kuhn said. "I tell them a senior year is just another year. They have had great careers. I tell them to enjoy the ride."
Senior Shivaun Landeros and junior Kayla Gomness have handled the bulk of the pitching duties.
Neither is a strikeout pitcher, which is where sophomore shortstop Kate Myers has been invaluable.
"She fields a lot of balls, probably as much as any shortstop in the country," said Kuhn. "She’s the type of leader and person you want on your team."
Kuhn won 368 games at Delta State and now is at 232 at UCA.
"I’ve had a lot of great players and coaches and great support from administration and staff," he said. "You don’t achieve this type of thing alone," he said.
After Tuesday’s milestone victory, the Bears are set to hop on a bus Thursday for a long trip to a weekend series against Nicholls at Thibodeaux, La.
In other words, business as usual.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)