Banner Elk, NC--The Lees-McRae College softball team raised the bar at on the softball field this year, attaining new heights throughout the regular season and setting an important foundation of character for the years to come. Despite falling short of their goals in the Conference Carolinas Tournament the Lady Bobcats showed improvement in nearly every area of the game in both tangible and intangible ways.
The Lady Bobcats, who carried the youngest team in the conference this year (six freshmen, four sophomores and a single junior), had the best regular season and the second best conference season since 1998-1999. The ladies went .500 (21-21) in regular season and exceeded other's expectations in the conference by finishing seventh after being picked tenth in the pre-season ranking. The only other time the Lady Bobcats have finished higher in the past nine years is in 2006 when, on the back of senior pitcher Hannah Morgan, the Bobcats managed a sixth place regular season finish.
"At the beginning of the year my goals for this team were to simply do better in the conference than last year's 11th place finish and to do whatever it took to maintain good attitudes and team chemistry," commented Coach Julie Kennedy. "This year the team leaders and I have placed a huge emphasis on our core foundational principles; respect, integrity, communication and excellence. This, combined with a talented young class of players, allowed us to improve in all three of our goals; chemistry, attitude and wins."
Individual highlights include junior shortstop and team captain, Salle' Horner (Lexington, S.C.), who led the conference in runs scored (40), and finished ranked fourth in total bases (72). Sophomore pitcher Amanda Dodson (Walnut Cove, N.C.) was ranked fourth in the conference for strikeouts with 113 for 120.1 innings pitched and received the coveted Conference Carolinas Pitcher of the Week award in the conference twice during the season, and pitched the first no-hitter in the school's history. Freshman pitcher and all-around player, Magen West (Whitney, Tex.), received Second Team All-Conference honors for driving in 12 runs in conference play. Freshman catcher Paige Coleman (Thomasville, N.C.) led the team in conference batting average with a .365 and caught nearly every conference game for the Lady Bobcats this year after overcoming ACL surgery this past summer.
As a team the Lady Bobcats went 8-0 to open the season and had a 7-1 run (4-0 in conference play) at the end of the year before dropping the last two regular season games and losing out in the conference tournament. The 7-1 run was started two weeks before the conference tournament when the Lady Bobcats traveled to Pfeiffer on their senior day and beat them twice. Pfeiffer would go on to win the Conference Carolinas tournament this season.
"It just shows me how close we are," said Kennedy of the
Pfeiffer wins. "We peaked a little early and could not maintain
the consistency needed to continue to achieve at a high level. I
believe that will come with time and maturity as we stick together
as a team."
The team also improved in pitching, had numerous double plays, got out of several defensive jams and showed offensive potential at different times. Seven of the nine players in the lineup hit homeruns at one point in the season. Both pitchers had less than a 3.0 earned run average in conference play, and the squad reached a majority (72%) of team goals as set by the team throughout the season. The Lady Bobcats improved over the course of the season and began winning the one run games and extra inning games consistently that they had been losing in the past.
"The power of TEAM was our strength. The biggest problem we faced was once we got a taste of winning, we just weren't satisfied with anything else. If that is the biggest problem we have then I can hardly wait until next year," added Coach Kennedy.
Special thanks go out to the Lady Bobcats for the contributions of all players; especially the sacrifices of team captain Salle' Horner. Key contributors on the sidelines for the Bobcats were MJ Williams, a red-shirt, All-Conference player who served as an assistant coach this year; Bradley Huff who served as an athletic trainer and did just about any other role you can think of for the team; and Athletic Director Ried Estus who made it possible behind the scenes for us to have a chance at success. Last, but not least, we thank God for his guidance, health, and for joyful times this season. Thank you all for your help this year.
Pictured: Salle' Horner