Published April 07. 2012 4:00AM
Storrs - Senior Jen Ward jogged off the softball field after the final out Friday, another step closer to the end of her UConn softball career.
It was a tough reality for Ward to digest.
"Crazy how time flies," Ward said. "It's been a real positive experience. I can't believe my four years are going to be over. I love this team. I'm going to be real sad to leave here."
Ward and fellow former Eastern Connecticut Conference standout Brittany Duclos, a junior, still have time to make some more fond memories.
Both players are key contributors for the Huskies. Ward bats lead-off and plays outfield while Duclos, an infielder, hits out of the fifth spot.
Their softball history dates back before their high school playing days - Duclos at Fitch High School where she won a Class LL state championship, and Ward at Waterford where she was a three-time all-state selection.
"It's been a lot of fun," Duclos said. "We've grown up playing against each other and playing with each other. I've really enjoyed getting to play with her again.
"She's a great kid and a great player. She's definitely competitive. She always works hard and dives for balls during practice and makes crazy catches. She's one of a kind."
On Friday, Duclos and Ward both had productive games, helping UConn defeat Villanova 4-1 at Burrill Family Field and kick off an important Big East Conference weekend series. The Huskies improved to 15-14 overall, 4-3 in the conference.
Duclos laid down a sacrifice bunt in the second inning and Andrea Huelsenbeck followed with an RBI single for a 1-0 lead.
In the third, Duclos made a sparkling defensive play at second base, cleanly handling a tough one-hopper for the final out to leave the bases loaded. She added a double in the fifth.
"I feel like I've been seeing the ball well and getting some good contact," Duclos said, "and just doing what we have to do to get wins."
Ward doubled in the third after Audrey Grinnell belted a solo home run for a 2-0 lead. But she was stranded. In the fifth, Ward moved a runner over to third with a ground ball to second and then Emily O'Donnell delivered an RBI single for a 3-1 edge.
Speed is one of Ward's biggest assets. She leads the team in stolen bases with 13 and ranks second on the career list. She's also second in runs scored this season with 22 while batting .226.
Duclos, who's batting .259, ranks fifth on the team in hits (22) and total bases (31). She has been a fixture in the starting lineup since her freshman year.
They've both started all 29 games this season.
"Both of them are impacting us," UConn coach Karen Mullins said. "Jen has had a good year at the plate and leads the team in stolen bases. She just brings a lot of energy to the field and has made some great catches and she is a real leader for us."
"Britt has been steady and she has really been coming around with the bat and has had some clutch hits for us."
Ward is hoping to finish her career by leading the Huskies to a berth in the Big East tournament. The Huskies haven't posted a winning conference record in her previous three seasons.
"We have to make every game count from here on out because our main goal is to make it to the tournament," said Ward, who plans to continue school to become a nurse following graduation.