Rebels taking bad turn

UNLV softball coach Lonni Alameda began the season believing she had a team capable of winning the Mountain West Conference.

Much has happened since early February, but the coach still thinks the Rebels (19-19-1) are on track to claim the championship.

“We’ve played a tough schedule and there have been some ups and downs,” said Alameda, whose team has struggled with consistency. “We started off very hot, then we hit some bumps in the road. But it’s the end of the journey that matters, not the beginning.”

Indeed, the Rebels looked almost unbeatable through the first two weeks of the season. A 9-1-1 start against top-tier competition propelled them to No. 23 in the national rankings, and it appeared they were on their way to an easy postseason berth.

But things took a significant turn after an 11-1 victory over Seton Hall on Feb. 18, as UNLV dropped five of its next six games.

“When you come out of the blocks like that, everyone is going to come after you,” Alameda said. “We got to see everyone’s ace and it was tough. There were some expectations put on us after the first couple of weekends and this young squad didn’t really know how to handle it.”

The Rebels, who have struggled ever since, will try to snap a six-game losing streak Wednesday when they close out their nonconference schedule at home with a doubleheader against Southern Utah. Alameda is optimistic that her team will use the games as a chance to gain momentum heading into Saturday’s Mountain West opener at San Diego State.

But the coach faces a number of challenges. Most notably, she must find a way to get her players to improve their fielding. The Rebels have committed a league-leading 112 errors this season.

“We’ve got to be able to play a good game of catch,” Alameda said. “We have to play together as a team to get the wins we need to get into the postseason. We’ve been beating ourselves more than the other teams have beaten us, but that’s something that’s within our control to fix.”

Alameda’s pitchers also have been somewhat unpredictable. Sophomore Stephanie Bregante has been the staff workhorse and at times has taken control of games. But recent struggles have dropped her to 10-11 with a 2.73 ERA, and her relief hasn’t fared much better.

“We’ve got to do a better job in the circle,” Alameda said. “We started off really well, but we’ve kind of tailed off since.”

Even the offense has slowed in recent weeks. Las Vegas High School graduate Alyssia De La Torre, a sophomore, is batting .323 with seven doubles to lead the team, and junior Jaci Hull is batting .320 with nine home runs and 25 RBIs. But much of the lineup is struggling at the plate, and runners often have been left stranded on the bases.

“We’ve played a top-20 schedule every weekend,” said Alameda, who added that the tough stretch has not come unexpectedly. “That’s challenged us both physically and emotionally.”

The competition won’t get much easier in league play, as every other team in the conference holds a winning record. San Diego State (27-10) and Brigham Young (20-12) enter as the favorites, but Alameda said her team won’t necessarily have to win the Mountain West to earn a postseason berth.

“The Mountain West is ranked fifth in the country this year in terms of strength of schedule,” she said. “We only have six teams, so that’s a great job by our conference. Because of that, losses don’t hurt you as much as they have in the past. I think there will be at least two teams going to the postseason.”

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