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Softball team returns home for Memphis tournament

<p>Gracie Morton runs to first base after a hit in the Florida Gulf Coast Invitational. Morton has accounted for half of the team's home runs and is second on the team in batting averaged.&nbsp;</p>
Gracie Morton runs to first base after a hit in the Florida Gulf Coast Invitational. Morton has accounted for half of the team's home runs and is second on the team in batting averaged. 

The Memphis softball team finished the Mardi Gras Classic tournament, and they prepare for another. 

The Tigers (7-8) finished their third consecutive tournament of the season. However the team has not packed any bags for a trip because they host their next softball tournament. Coach Natalie Poole said the team is looking forward to their next opponent. 

"Our turnaround time is fast," Poole said. "There are a lot of games to play and you must have the ability to collect yourself and get back to work so you can make your adjustments quickly. That is where our minds go to."

Memphis Softball has endured three weeks of short practices and traveling across the country. So far, the Tigers have competed in tournaments in Hawai'i, Florida and Alabama playing five games in each weekend. Poole said the team can now get an extra of practice; whereas traveling limited them to one or two.

"Hopefully we can work throughout this week with three practice days," Poole said. "We've been very minimal over the last couple weeks about the number of practices."

The Tigers concluded the Mardi Gras Classic in Mobile, Alabama, with a 2-3 record. Memphis lost their first game, 5-8 to Stephen F. Austin State University. Later, the UofM played host South Alabama and beat the Jaguars in both games, outscoring them 13-7. The Tigers then lost to Jacksonville University twice to end the trip. The Dolphins held Memphis to their first scoreless game, and Jacksonville won 0-1. 

Poole said she did not want to finish the tournament on a loss and it left a 'bitter taste'.

"It is almost like it is the last thing that you remember," Poole said. "I wasn't discouraged, I was upset that we didn't perform to the level that I believe we are capable of doing." 

The Tigers have gone 6-0 every time the team scored six or more runs in a game. Adversely, Memphis finished 1-7 every time they scored five runs or less. The only exception is when Memphis beat Florida Gulf Coast University 3-2. Poole said she thinks the team can have great moments and games at any given time, but they can still get better. 

"I think that it is not being able to adjust well in the games that we walked away from with a loss," Poole said. "Just our ability to adjust quicker at the plate."

The Tigers averaged four runs a game after five games in the Mardi Gras Classic. However, Memphis gave up an average of 4.8 runs per game throughout the same stretch. 

Overall, the Tigers have scored 77 runs and allowed 65 runs in 15 games. Memphis has averaged 5.13 runs per game and an average of 4.33 allowed runs per game. 

During the Tigers first tournament Memphis scored 16 more runs than they allowed. When the Florida Gulf Coast Invitational ended, Memphis allowed and scored 21 runs. At the conclusion of the Mobile tournament, the Tigers surrendered four more runs than they earned at 20 and 24. 

The Blues City Classic has returned the Tigers back home until Mar. 17. The team is expected to host another two softball tournaments in Memphis. Memphis does not leave until they travel to play the Tennessee Volunteers in Columbia, Tennessee. 

"I definitely expect us to want to perform well in front of our Memphis fans," Poole said. "I definitely see us being able to get the rest that we need in our own comfortable environment so we can come out and do the best we can when we're out on the field."

Until then, the UofM softball team does not leave the city of Memphis. The Blues City Classic is prepared to give the Tigers another five games. Memphis is scheduled to play Northern Illinois, Northwestern State, Western Illinois, Evansville and North Alabama. 

First, the NIU Huskies are 5-5 and went 4-1 in their most recent tournament. Northern Illinois won their last game and they are the first team the Tigers play. Northwestern State is next in line to play the Tigers. The Lady Demons won their last two games and have established an 8-5 record. 

The following day, Memphis is scheduled for one game, and it is against Western Illinois. The Fighting Leathernecks are 3-7 and have not won consecutive games this season. 

The final day, the Tigers are slated to play the Evansville Purple Aces first. The Purple Aces are 6-7 and are headed home to Indiana after their match with Memphis. 

The last team the Tigers are expected to play is the University of North Alabama Lions. The Lions posted a 9-5 record so far and have pitched shutouts in six of their nine wins. 

Memphis is not scheduled against any of the teams more than once. The past three tournaments provided 15 games for the Tigers against nine teams. The Blues City Classic has handed Memphis five teams to overcome with one shot at each program. 

Two sophomores have dominated for the Tigers, Sam Ibison and Gracie Morton. The notable duo has produced well for Memphis, and they hold the two highest batting averages on the team. 

Ibison left the Mobile weekend with a batting average of .400 and has remained at the top of the batting order. The shortstop has finished the first 15 games with 11 runs, 22 hits and seven runs batted in. Ibison said the ability to keep a focused head can decide the upcoming tournament.

"We are at home so I feel like there's going to be higher energy as a team," Ibison said. "For me it's just a matter of staying calm and not getting too antsy or trying to like overproduce necessarily, just kind of relaxing and doing what I have been doing." 

Morton has emerged as a prolific performer after finishing 15 games with a .373 batting average. Additionally, she achieved seven runs, 22 hits, 13 runs batted in and one home run. Morton said she wants to focus for the upcoming tournament and not make the situation bigger than it is. 

"You want to do really good in front of your home crowd," Morton said. "Just going out there and keep doing what I've been doing and just make the adjustments that I need and that we need as a team in order to go out with a winning record this tournament."

Memphis has approached a weekend that could put the team into a winning record. If the Tigers win three of their five, they would be placed as a 10-10 team. However the Memphis softball team has begun a long home stretch to regroup. The Tigers' fourth consecutive tournament is set to start Feb. 28 and continue through Mar. 1.

Gracie Morton runs to first base after a hit in the Florida Gulf Coast Invitational. Morton has accounted for half of the team's home runs and is second on the team in batting averaged. 

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