College softball: Third-place UC rolls into final week of the season
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.
On the mound, sophomore Courtney Fain and freshman Morgan Aguirre, a Logan graduate, split time as the team's two top pitchers. Fain returns to a greater role this season after tossing approximately 20 innings last year, Loeser said. Thus far, Fain has thrown 115 innings to post a 10-8 record.
For Aguirre, the season marked her first at the collegiate level. Entering Tuesday, Aguirre posted an 11-8 record with 2.58 earned run average. She struck out 95 and walked 43 in 116 and one-third innings.
"Aguirre, every time you run her out there she's going to give you a chance to win the game," Loeser said. "She's really matured and I don't mean maturity off the field, I say maturity on the field in the fact when she came to us, she was a thrower. Now, I truly think she's thinking about pitching, thinking about throwing pitches, relying on the ball to go to certain spots and hit locations, rather than just try to throw the ball by kids."
Pitching, as always, remains a key for UC's success, Loeser said.
"We pitch and play defense," he said of the Golden Eagles' third-ranked defense. "That's something we've always prided ourselves on. Our pitchers are going to give us a chance every day to win the game. If our defense is going to make the outs, we should have a chance to win the game, but you have to do those two things. Fortunately, we've been able to score enough runs 21 out of 39 games."
The season started rough, but that's behind UC now. The finish is the most important, Loeser said.
"I try to tell the kids every day: it's not about if you win your first game, you always want to win your last game, because if you keep winning your last game, we keep playing," he said.
All statistics were current prior to UC's doubleheader at Bluefield State College on Tuesday. Those stats were not available at press time.
The Golden Eagles next play host to Concord University in a doubleheader set to begin at 3 p.m. today. UC will finish the regular season with a doubleheader vs. Glenville State College at 2 p.m. Friday and celebrate Senior Day with a doubleheader against Ohio Valley University at 1 p.m. Saturday.