CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The wave of the University of Charleston softball team's youth movement led to a rough start this season, though the team now rides high in the final week of the regular season.
The Golden Eagles began the season 1-8, as six players filled new positions for UC (23-18). Inexperience quickly turned to improved play, however, with the team winning 22 of its next 32 games.
"I don't know that it's something that clicked, I just think they started getting comfortable," Coach Ray Loeser said. "We started getting a little more consistent, started getting comfortable, so they were able to perform."
Entering Wednesday's action, the Golden Eagles held third place in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference with a 14-6 record.
Senior Janeen Vazquez (first base) and sophomores Ayla Santos (right field) and Jacqueline Carlin (catcher) represented the lone returning starters. However, sophomore Andrea Haynes returned to start at shortstop after playing second base last season.
Vazquez and Carlin have been "steady Eddie" all season, Loeser said, as two of the team's most consistent hitters. Vazquez leads the team in hits (35) with a .361 batting average, while also leading in RBI (17) and stolen bases (21). Meanwhile, Carlin is second with 33 hits and a .317 average, and ranks second in home runs (four) and third in RBI (15).
In addition, freshman Kendal LeFrancois and sophomore Kayln Butt each have made large contributions in recent weeks, Loeser said. LeFrancois leads the team in home runs with five, to go with her .358 average and 15 RBI, while Butt is second on the team with 16 RBI and a .313 average, despite just 18 starts.
"Those four kids, time-in and time-out, in conference, have been able to do the job for us," Loeser said of Vazquez, Carlin, LeFrancois and Butt.
Beyond that group, Loeser said he's also relied upon Santos and Hailey Tretick for power, with Katelyn Hamilton providing athleticism and speed.