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Resurgent UNLV softball team strives for at-large NCAA bid

Mia Trejo has spent the past five years playing softball at UNLV. Few — if any — of the teams she’s played on have been as talented as this one.

“We’ve come together as a team,” she said. “It’s really exciting.”

With five series remaining in the regular season, UNLV is tied with Boise State for third place in the Mountain West. Its 28-9 record is already three wins better than the Rebels managed during the 2021 season.

Coach Kristie Fox believes this team has the potential to win the conference and make an NCAA regional.

UNLV’s most recent conference championship was in 1995, when it played in the Big West. The Rebels haven’t played in an NCAA regional since 2009, when they received an at-large bid.

Facing conference-leaders San Diego State during the past weekend, the Rebels handed the Aztecs their first Mountain West loss of the season. UNLV’s two defeats against SDSU were by slim margins too, including a 7-6 extra-inning loss Sunday.

“One hit on Sunday and you’re talking about us as the best team in the conference,” Fox said. “I think we were both really evenly matched.”

For the past several years, Fox has primarily built her teams around pitching and defense. But this season she has a squad whose run-scoring ability can take the Rebels to the next level.

Trejo has been a massive part of UNLV’s resurgent offense. In her fifth year with the program, she’s hitting .407 with eight home runs and 42 RBIs. The Tucson, Arizona, native has also struck out just 12 times through 37 games and is slugging .722.

However, Trejo’s leadership has been the most important factor for UNLV. “It’s really easy to look up to her,” freshman outfielder Sofia Morales said.

While Trejo has continued to fuel the offense, several newcomers have given her some help.

Morales, who stepped up after injuries gave her an opportunity, has also provided a boost at the plate. Her .404 batting average is second on the team among qualifying players.

The addition of senior April Visser, a transfer from N.C. State, has been a positive too, adding much needed power to the lineup. She leads the team with 14 home runs and 43 RBIs.

Continued production from returning players like senior outfielder Denise Armendiaz and junior outfielder Maddie Schmidt have turned the Rebels lineup into a strong unit.

Fox’s revamped offense has lifted some of the pressure off the UNLV’s pitching staff, in particular senior Jenny Bressler. In 29 appearances, including 19 starts, she’s tossed 123⅓ innings, struck out 112 and held opponents to a .215 batting average on her way to a 15-6 record and a 2.16 ERA.

She says focus on her recovery and better command of her pitches are helping her maintain a high level of performance.

The Rebels still have a lot of games in front of them to achieve their goals. Only one of their final five opponents has a winning record in Mountain West play. But Fox believes they’ll need to win more than 35 games to get serious consideration for an at-large bid.

“We’ve really got to focus on taking care of our business,” Fox said. “Getting every game we can, limiting the damage, limiting the losses — this is a big stretch for us.”

UNLV heads to San Jose State this week to play a three-game series with the Spartans. The first game will be Thursday at 6 p.m.

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.

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