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Megan Garst became the first UNA pitcher to throw back-to-back no-hitters in school history when she beat Jacksonville 2-0 this past Saturday. Garst leads the ASUN Conference with an ERA of 0.80. [JIM HANNON/TIMESDAILY]

FLORENCE — Megan Garst rolls into the Hilda B. Anderson Softball Complex a little late for her 4:30 p.m. interview.

On the field, several of her North Alabama softball teammates are practicing even though the workout is optional.

Garst, wearing a UNA softball cap, t-shirt and gym shorts apologizes for being late. A science final ran late, she explained.

No problem — waiting a few extra minutes for the perhaps the hottest pitcher in Division I softball is worth it.

Garst has thrown consecutive no-hitters for the Lions and hasn’t allowed an earned run since April 13 against Lipscomb. Kennesaw State got two runs against her on April 19, but both were unearned. Since then, nada in 29 innings.

The junior from Columbiana who came to UNA by way of Shelton State is one of the biggest reasons the Lions are headed to the ASUN Conference tournament as the No. 4 seed. The tournament begins Wednesday, and with the berth the Lions have had to adjust their preseason goal from just making the tournament to winning it.

Coach Ashley Cozart sees no reason the Lions can't be in the mix for the conference title in their first season.

“We have beaten everybody’s No. 1 pitcher except for Florida Gulf Coast and Lipscomb,” Cozart said. “Our defense and pitching has been good. I hope we can put it together hitting-wise.”

Garst has been at the forefront of the Lions' surge. With a 15-5 record, she has been credited with 60 percent of the team’s 25 wins. That’s not too shabby for someone who has pitched this season with one completely torn ligament and one partially torn ligament in her right (pitching) wrist that will require postseason surgery.

She has won her past seven starts and her 0.80 ERA leads the ASUN by more than a quarter of a run per game.

“This season has been a work in progress,” Garst said. “I’ve definitely gotten better as the season has gone on. I was limited this past fall, so I’ve just been battling every single day on the field and trying to do my best out there.”

Her best has been sensational. When she beat Jacksonville 1-0 this past Saturday, Garst became the first UNA pitcher to throw back-to-back no-hitters. Her success elicits comparisons to former UNA standout and All-American Hillary Carpenter, who holds nearly every school pitching record but never had back-to-back no-hitters.

“They have different styles, but I would put Megan with her,” Cozart said. “Both of those are two of the best pitchers I have been blessed to coach.”

Garst, who played volleyball and softball at Cornerstone Christian, has a typical story as to why she chose UNA.

“I wanted to stay close to home and I love the campus,” she said. “Texas Tech was the biggest school to offer me, but I didn’t even go on a visit. My senior year in high school my dad had a heart attack and I wanted to stay close to him and my mom in case anything else happened.”

Cozart offered Garst a scholarship “without having seen her throw very much.” When she finally got an up close and personal look, Cozart knew she had a potential star.

“Sometimes you never know (how a player will turn out) with the pressure of school and how they will compete, but Megan has exceeded all expectations,” Cozart said. “Megan is this good because of herself. She’s such a competitor.”

She also has an arsenal of four pitches — curve, riseball, screwball and changeup — that she can throw at any time and in any count.

“She throws three of them extremely well,” assistant coach Lindsey Thompson said. “Most pitchers have two that they really go to.  Megan works the umpires — she nibbles and nibbles until she finds out what they like and she is so consistent. That’s what makes her special. A lot of pitchers can’t do that.”

While Cozart and Thompson were confident she could adjust to competing on the Division II level to Division I, Garst wasn’t so sure.

“The biggest difference is that the hitters — one through nine — are rough,” Garst said. “Everybody is a good hitter and you can’t slow down or give up. I never really believed that I could compete in Division I, but my coaches believe in me and that is what has gotten me through it mostly.”

Garst said her confidence soared after she pitched the no-hitter against Liberty.

“When we beat Liberty and I had the no-hitter, I knew right then we could beat anybody in the conference. Anybody is fair game,” she said.

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