PSAC competition commenced this past weekend for the KU softball team as the Golden Bear women travelled to West Chester University and Shippensburg University. If the four games were any indication for this season’s future, it looks rather grim. KU split two games with West Chester on Friday and dropped both of their games against Shippensburg.
The month of March has been unkind to the Golden Bears this season. A perfect 4-0 record leaving the Salem Invitational was the only upside in a forgettable month of play. After the Salem Invitational, KU has posted a dismal record of 2-10. Last season, KU went an astounding 20-1 in March, which is quite remarkable when compared tothis season. Right now, the Golden Bears are posting an overall record of 11-13 thanks in part to the troubles of March.
What has led to this sudden struggle? The easy answer is to say that Samantha Derr’s departure is the reason for the current season. Derr’s arm as much as her bat was a constant source of success. The pitching staff of sophomores Derr and Mary Kocienki allowed no more than three runs in just one game last season during March. This season’s pitching staff is not nearly as consistent.
However, poor batting is also contributing to a lackluster start to the season. In 13 of their 21 games last March, KU scored at least five runs in the game. Last season, scoring less than five points wasn’t a concern because the pitching staff regularly threw shutouts; 12 shutouts were thrown in March last season. Two shutouts were thrown in March this season.
It may be it’s unfair to compare the two teams, but it’s not unwarranted. Last season was nothing short of spectacular, notching just seven losses the entire season. KU already has more losses this year and they have yet to break into the meat of the PSAC schedule.
KU took on both West Chester and Shippensburg this past weekend. They dropped two games to Shippensburg by scores of 0-4 and 1-2. The game they lost against West Chester ended 5-8, but the win was the highlight of the weekend for the Golden Bears. KU provided a glimpse at what they’re capable of by winning 9-3 against West Chester. By taking a close look at the win, it is clear to see where the Golden Bears need to improve.
Simplistically, KU needs to start playing better small ball. Last season, alumni seniors Kelly Fitzgerald and Heather Hannum were powerhouse hitters. Along with current senior Katie Lynch, they combined for 29 homeruns. Hannum, Fitzgerald and Derr were third through fourth in RBIs last season, composing a major part of KU’s offense. Unfortunately for Coach Lawes, Lynch is not producing huge hits like last season when she led the team in homeruns with 12. She has one this whole season.
The power just doesn’t seem to be there. That’s why players like junior Jackie Hetzler are all the more valuable to this season’s team. Her four-hit game truly exemplifies the way KU needs to play the rest of the season. When a lead off hitter with Hetzler’s speed gets on base, pitchers often become hesitant to throw the next pitch in fear that the woman on base will steal. That’s exactly what Hetzler did in the win. Along with four hits and a steal, Hetzler had three RBIs and one run.
The other major contributor for KU was junior Colleen Smith. Among the players to watch in the entire PSAC division, Smith is a total package hitter. In the 9-3 win, Smith had three hits, three runs and four RBIs. Two homeruns in the game contributed to her excellent stat line. This season, Smith lead the team in homeruns with eight. With a batting average of .420, Smith is an essential component to KU’s season.
As far as pitching in the win, sophomore Dominique Ficara earned her fifth win by pitching all seven innings. Her six strikeouts were clutch and allowing just three runs equaled her average performance. Her ERA this season is 3.07 just shy of the leading pitch Kocienki who has posted a 3.04 this season.
The season is far from over. Their 11-13 record will surely change. Millersville University is their next opponent, which could be trouble for KU. The two key hitters from last season against Millersville were Hetzler and Lynch. Lynch went 4-13 at the plate against Millersville last season and Hetzler went 3-12. All three hits for Hetzler came in one game.
Junior Morgan Booth recently spoke about this season on the KU athletics website. She loves to steal, and it just so happens she recorded the most steals of her career in one game against Millersville. In the game she stole three bases and needs to keep this performance up to fit the small ball style of KU this year.
Booth commented on the struggles to begin the 2013 season saying, “It’s preseason so we’re still figuring things out. We just need to find the right combination of players and work on team chemistry. We are all very good athletes.”
By Frank Lippincott