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Junior Shelbie Franc makes a play during the Lobos first practice Feb. 8, 2016 at the Lobo Softball Field. The Lobos will play their first home game this Saturday against Northern Colorado at 1 p.m.

Junior Shelbie Franc makes a play during the Lobos first practice Feb. 8, 2016 at the Lobo Softball Field. The Lobos will play their first home game this Saturday against Northern Colorado at 1 p.m.

Softball: After three tournaments, Lobos open home slate this weekend

After three straight out-of-state tournaments, New Mexico softball gets its first taste of home competition this weekend.

The Lobos (8-7) host Northern Colorado for its home opener after playing in  Arizona and California to open the season. Saturday’s doubleheader begins at 1 p.m. with one more game in the series Sunday at 10 a.m.

Now that some early season rust has been shaken off, it’s time for the Lobos to settle into the campaign, UNM head coach Erica Beach said. Playing a variety of teams – ranging from big-name schools like Texas A&M and Arkansas to smaller programs like Idaho State and Loyola Marymount – the Lobos saw a little bit of everything, she said.

“We've had a lot of learning moments over the last three weekends,” she said. “We faced a lot of different types of competition. We've risen to some really amazing challenges, then we've faltered when we should have been strong.”

In preparation for the home opener, Beach said the Lobos worked on defense this past week. In the last tournament at UC Davis in California, New Mexico made errors that Beach called uncharacteristic for the team. The Lobos grabbed three wins and two losses at that tourney.

Beach couldn’t quite put her finger on why the errors, such as overthrows and bad hops, happened at UC Davis. But the team is still young in some defensive positions, Beach said, and the experience is something the players can use moving forward.

“Sometimes we just made some weird mental errors on defense,” she said. “We can learn from those and we can make sure they don't happen again, which is why we need to learn from these preseason tournaments. That's why we do them.”

Aside from the defense, the Lobos need to find ways to strike first. Twelve times in the first 15 games the opponent crossed home plate before the Lobos. UNM overcame those early deficits to win six times.

The ability to rally back is a double-edged sword, Beach said. It shows her team has the confidence and the fight it needs to be able to surge back later in the contest, but it’s a necessary skill to build an early lead first, then hold it through the remainder of a game.

“If a team is a good-hitting team and they put runs up, that's fine,” she said. “But when it's a team that we should compete with, we should try to keep them off the board longer so that our offense can get a head start, instead of always coming from behind."

The pitching puzzle is starting to become clear, Beach said, as all five saw the circle in the first three weeks.

The Lobos have senior leadership in Lauren Soles (2-2) with freshman Colette Robert (4-3) finding some early success, and both have earned-run averages under 4.00 – Soles at 2.27 and Robert at 3.96.

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Also, Beach said Krissy Fortner is settling into her closing role once again, with Tess McPherson and Lisa Rodriguez discovering what their roles will be.

“They've all thrown pretty good innings for us,” Beach said. “It's a good problem to have when you almost have too many pitchers who are doing well.”

Beach called the Northern Colorado Bears (3-8) a well-balanced team, whose ability has been overshadowed by a sub-.500 record. Their lineup features both speed and power, she said, and UNC has traditionally played close games with UNM. Last time they played, UNM won 1-0.

As long as UNM can play defense and the pitching stays strong, Beach feels confident her team can sweep the series.

“They've always played us very competitively, so I'm very excited to see them match up,” she said. “But I think if we come and play to our best ability, then we should take the weekend.”

J.R. Oppenheim is the assistant sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers men’s basketball and women’s soccer. Contact him at or on Twitter @JROppenheim.

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