NASHVILLE, Tenn. – When a team is returning nine starters, including its top pitcher, it is more about where your team is heading than where it has been.
In the case of the Lipscomb softball team a discussion of the future does require a look back at the 2017 season. It was one that started with many questions. It is a team spent a large portion of the season in the top 40 in the RPI. And it was a team which saw high hopes end with a 3-7 record in the final games, including three games in the ASUN Conference Tournament.
On a positive note the 36 wins in 2017 are the fourth highest in coach Kristin Ryman’s tenure. First baseman Caitlin Plocheck was named to the ASUN All-Conference First Team. Plocheck was second in the ASUN overall with 17 doubles and nine home runs. She was sixth with a .566 slugging percentage and 10th with 33 runs batted in.
Plocheck led the team with a .333 average. Destinee Brewer batted .318.
Pitcher Mandy Jordan set career highs in wins (23), shutouts (7), strikeouts (261), earned run average (1.46), appearances (38), starts (33) and opposing batting average (.201), all in the top three overall in the ASUN Conference. She was ranked in 12 in strikeouts and 25th in wins nationally in the NCAA. She was in the top 30 in the NCAA in ERA and shutouts.
Jordan was named to the Second Team. Second baseman Hannah DeVault was a unanimous All-Freshman Team selection. Shortstop Peyton Ward also was named All-Freshman.
They were 22nd in the NCAA in fielding percentage (.974), 27th in earned run average (and 46th in winning percentage (.643).
The entire starting infield – Plocheck at first, DeVault, Ward and Sarah Higgins at third – returns.
In the outfield Brewer, a left fielder and center fielder, is back along with right fielder Khayla Green. Center fielder Kasey Gibson graduated.
The battery of Jordan and starting catcher Abby Fenichel, who has not missed an inning in two seasons, is back.
Pitcher McCarley Thomas set career season highs in all of her categories including 12 wins and 120 strikeouts. She has graduated.
“What a great boost it was for Mandy and McCarley to step in and perform the way they did this season,” Ryman said. “Megan Gray spent most of her freshman year laying her foundation. We are excited about where she could potentially be next fall.
“We have Jordan Fortel, a junior college transfer, coming in. She is a bulldog type of pitcher. She has an attack mentality.”
Chloe Yeager, who spent the majority of the season as a designated player, can also pitch.
“We knew coming into this year there were unknowns on our pitching staff and there were unknowns across the board,” Ryman said. “We had some key players returning like Fenichel, Brewer, Plocheck, Higgins and Gibson.
“We had some of those pieces returning, but we knew we needed a little more out of them this season. We needed several players like Plocheck and Gibson to turn the corner this year and they did.”
The middle of the infield was held down by Ward and DeVault who started every game. Yeager was the go-to person as the designated hitter.
“We would have liked them to have had better years statistically, but that is part of being a freshman,” Ryman said. “It is one of the major challenges of the freshman season. They still played major roles.
“It is a fine balance. The freshmen come in with high expectations. From a sheer talent standpoint we had a good feeling early on Peyton and Hannah were going to play a lot. We knew Chloe could play a role with her offense. Abby White turned some heads before she got hurt.”
Ryman told her freshmen at the end of the year not to dwell on their statistics, but to realize how much each one of them had grown as a player, especially in their mental approach to the game.
“Chloe said, `I kind of caught myself thinking this was a wasted year because I could have done so much better, but I had to catch myself and push that thinking out’,” Ryman said. “She said it better than anybody.
“They feel like the foundation has been laid. Now they know what to expect. They are motivated and driven to work on the things they need to work on.”
It was a team that played at its best when it approached a game with a looser nature.
“They couldn’t be quiet,” Ryman said. “They had to talk and laugh with each other. We brought so much positive emotion to games at some points that it gave me goosebumps.
“They weren’t lackadaisical. They were focused. It would surprise me if next year’s team is much the same in the way it approaches games. It is about enjoying what you are doing. That is the message.”