Freshmen spark softball success


After winning just one game the past two seasons, the Lady Baron softball team has exceeded all expectations and is competing for a spot in the conference tournament for the first time in program history.

The Lady Barons are currently hold a record of 6-6 in conference play and sit in fifth place out of the ten-team Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference, a drastic improvement from being a combined 1-71 in the past two season. They have never won more than three games before this season.

Much of the team’s success is due to the influx of young talent on the team. More than half of the team’s starting lineup is composed of freshmen, with an additional one playing every other game as the starting pitcher. With only three starters returning from last season, the addition of these freshmen was a very welcome blessing, according to Lady Baron head coach Jim Walker.

Walker said that while he knew that there was a pretty good freshman class coming in, “I don’t think anyone expected us to be so good this quickly.”

And good, they have been. The team has scored and driven in more runs so far than they did during the entirety of last season. They’ve also gotten more hits and struck out less offensively. Walker said that part of the reason for the quick improvement is that the freshmen came into this season expecting to win. “These girls have all had pretty successful high school and travel careers, so they came here expecting to compete,” he said.

According to Walker and several members of the team, it was this new attitude that sparked the team’s performance and set it aside from seasons past. According to junior co-captain Lindsey Finch, the teams from the last couple years have been composed of, “some of the sweetest, kindest girls you’ll ever know, but they sometimes lacked that competitive edge that is needed. It’s good to have a little bit of anger and passion because it can motivate us to be better.”

Walker concurred, saying that because of the optimism the freshmen brought, they reinvigorated the upperclassmen and made them believe that this season’s outcome could be different than the ‘dark ages,’ as Finch called them. But the upperclassmen also played a role in the freshmen’s success. Freshman Ashley Kondracki said that the Finch, along with senior co-captain Jordan Cunningham and several other returning players, went out of their way to help the new players adjust to the rigors of college softball.

One of these, Kondracki said, was learning how to play two games at a time instead of just one, as they did in high school. “They took us aside and said, ’Hey, you’re going to get tired, you have to push through.’ Sometimes we’ll be playing five hours a day, and they really taught us how to get through that.”

The other thing that several players and Walker pointed to as one of the team’s keys to success is their chemistry. “Team chemistry is the most important off-field element to a softball team, without a doubt,” said Walker, “If you can’t get along off the field, then you probably going struggle getting along on the field.” According to the players, the chemistry has really blossomed, compared to years past. Kondracki called the team a “group of best friends” and said that this has helped their performance because, “When you’re playing with your best friends, you have fun and when you’re having fun, you play well.”

This relationship has brought out the very best from all players, freshmen and upperclassmen alike.

A real sense of trust has developed between the players, which is crucial to their success. Cunningham, the team’s ace pitcher, stressed the importance of a pitcher’s trust in the catcher and said that, although she was a little nervous of having a freshman catcher at first, she has total confidence in the rookie backstop.

“Once I started throwing to Kayla (Anderson), it only took one practice for us to get on the same page,” said Cunningham. I knew that I could throw anything to her and she would catch it.”

All in all, the Lady Barons have put on quite the performance this year and have them all looking forward to more success in the future. According to Walker, the team expects to add several more skilled freshmen in the fall, including some pitchers that will help replace the loss of the graduating Cunningham. Walker also said that this season has changes the team’s reputation around the conference from being an easy win to being a place where players can come and be very successful in the college careers.

Even though she’s graduating, Cunningham expressed high hopes for the young freshmen as they continue on. “In the next couple years and up until they graduate, they’re going to be tremendous leaders,” she said. They’re going to put this team where it needs to be on top.