With the season on the line, Charlotte 49ers softball coach Aimee DeVos turned to her ace.
The team’s Conference USA schedule ended April 27, and the 49ers have to wait until this weekend’s conference games to see if they will advance to the C-USA tournament May 8 in Boca Raton, Fla.
Charlotte needed to win at least two of its three-game home series with Marshall on April 26-27 to keep its tourney hopesalive, and DeVos put her trust in pitcher Lexi Betancourt. Betancourt already was responsible for almost 95 percent of the 49ers pitching victories.
Charlotte (10-13 C-USA, 20-26 overall through April 28) and Betancourt won two of three, putting the team in a three-way tie for the eighth and final spot in the conference tournament.
There was an early sense that Betancourt would be the pitching staff’s anchor this season. She didn’t pitch last season because of an injury but was highly effective in her 2012 freshman campaign.
Katie Watkins, Charlotte’s ace in 2013, decided not to return for her senior year, leaving Betancourt with the most experienced arm, though surgery left that arm in peril.
This year’s pitching staff took another hit with another injury to a different pitcher. Freshman Beth Blackburn broke an ankle two weeks before the season began. As a result, Betancourt has started 29 of Charlotte’s 46 games, registering a 19-13 record.
Betancourt is sympathetic to missing a season to injury. Her 2013 absence dates to fall 2012, when she experienced pain under her right shoulder for the first time.
“One day at practice I felt something kind of crack,” said Betancourt. “It took forever to figure out what it was.
“I was diagnosed in April the following year. I didn’t see a game (pitching) in the fall or the spring.
“Obviously it was relief finding out what it was. The surgery was a no-brainer. I had to do it get back out on the field. I cracked my rib somehow. When it grew back it over-calcified. It ended up giving me shooting pain down my arm and some tingling.”
This season, junior Chelsea Lisikatos, who primarily plays third base, and freshman Mackenzie Hauser are helping with the pitching duties. But before the 49ers started conference games, DeVos told Betancourt she “would be getting the ball a lot.”
For each conference series, Betancourt typically has started the first game of a doubleheader, relieved after two or three innings of the second game and started the third game the following day.
“We didn’t realize it would have to be that big of a load,” said DeVos. “She’s definitely a pitcher who is ready for it. Some schools throw the same pitcher every game, and we don’t do that but we’re coming pretty close to it as of late. We have to do everything we can to put us in a position to win.”
Crediting her composure, an improved change-up and her close bond with catcher Jackie Kleinsmith, Betancourt says she is achieving her season’s goals of having an earned run average below 2.00 and at least 200 strikeouts.
Entering the April 29 home doubleheader with N.C. State, Betancourt had 198 Ks and a 2.24 ERA.
“I couldn’t do any of this without Jackie,” said Betancourt. “She calls a great game. We have a different sort of communicative chemistry than what I have with anyone else on the team.”
On March 22, the 49ers were 3-16-1 overall and had lost their first nine conference games. Charlotte baseball is 11-10 overall since and 6-5 in league games through May 1.
After home games with Alabama-Birmingham on May 2-4, Charlotte will have seven games remaining, six in C-USA.