By Alexander Haynes
The past weekend’s Bobcat Classic was a memorable one in Texas State softball history, a note of consistency in a process that has now lasted 17 years and 600 wins. As the sun rose on the Bobcats’ season and the cool, February afternoon, softball head coach Ricci Woodard landed her 600th win as a head coach with a dramatic 3-2 victory over Sam Houston. This rare mark of coaching persistence takes time, dedication, and a passionate love for sport. Coach Woodard embodies those qualities, and more, heading into a season that might carry the biggest expectations and challenges in one, exuberant mix.
The exuberant possibilities were seen when the season opened on Thursday evening against Sam Houston State. With a lineup ready to create chaos, and Randi Rupp ready to support her 2017 Sun Belt pitcher of the year award, the Bobcats were prepared to take control of the game. Through seven innings, Rupp handled 25 batters, landing 13 strike outs to only one walk. Her numbers spoke to her proficiency and austere presence on the mound. The lineup supported Rupp’s outing with seven players getting on base, four via walks and three via hits.
However, those on-base trips took time to generate functional scoring. Sam Houston pitcher Lindsey McLeod held strong until the sixth inning when all three Bobcat runs scored. The good news for the Bobcats was only four strikeouts conjoined with an astounding five strikes swinging. The lineup was efficient at exhausting McLeod and puncturing the field at the most opportune time, leading to 3-0 win.
Battling a Top Ten Team
Friday afternoon pitted the ninth ranked Florida State Seminoles against the Bobcats in the school’s first ever meeting. Rupp took the mound ready to net an upset, but the Seminoles are not ninth ranked merely because of the SEC. The veteran Seminoles were able to obtain a 4-2 victory, but not without being challenged. Rupp lasted all seven innings and 30 batters, while striking out five and walking three.
The Bobcats batting was largely minimal, however. The two runs were seen in a second inning and a fourth inning solo shot from first baseman Hailey MacKay. Juxtaposed to the opening night, the team was swinging at a plethora more pitches, with 11 strikes swinging, leading to five strike outs while swinging.
Although the game was a mark in the loss column, these are the type of fights which have granted coach Woodard her resiliency. Instead of analyzing this as a moment for demeaning loss, coach Woodard took note this was proof the Bobcats possess the right tools to fight with the best in the nation.
“This game shows that we can play with anyone in the country,” said coach Woodard after the game. “We hung with one of the best teams in the country, and a team that returned a lot of their hitters from a year ago. I told this team that we could play with anybody and tonight showed that to be true.”
Saturday Double Header
Featuring familiar opponents, Saturday would see the first of the daunting double-header games. Sam Houston State was first on the schedule with Rupp taking the mound, again. This time, she faced 29 batters, struck out eight, and allowed two runs. While Sam Houston netted five hits, Rupp executed excellent damage control. The defense of catcher Haleigh Davis is already proving to be a strong suit on the season (total of 25 putouts through four games). The connection between pitcher and catcher is essential to crafting long-term success.
The Bobcats’ early success seen in Kennedy Cline staring down six pitches (three balls, three fouls) before scoring Bailee Carter on a sacrifice fly in the second was subsequently met with frustration in a poignantly more aggressive tact. Sam Houston’s fifth inning score would put the game on ice until the dramatic bottom of the seventh. As the brisk morning waned into the even colder afternoon, Kourtney Pock took the first pitch of her seventh inning bat to drive a double deep left, scoring the two runs to give the Bobcats coach Woodard her 600th career victory.
One of the intriguing storylines to watch coach Woodard handle this season was a young bullpen and rotation behind Rupp. In the second game of the double header, Krista Jacobs saw her first start after serving from the bull pen in 2017. However, that start came against the veteran Florida State lineup from the evening before. Jacobs threw only eight strikes in 2.2 innings on 48 pitches and five runs; the difference in experience stole the afternoon. Freshman pitcher Meagan King closed the final three innings, giving up three runs on 53 pitches. While the narrative on the pitching depth may seem negative at first glance, regard this is only their first opportunity in a long process-– there will be plenty of process to show improvement. The Bobcats fell 8-0, as Carter glanced the singular hit of the outing.
After Sunday’s Portland State match was cancelled due to weather, the Bobcats will play Boston College on Monday at 1 p.m. They then head on a month long road trip, arriving in Arizona to begin the Littlewood Classic on Friday. Their next home game will be against Houston Baptist on March 7.
Featured image via @KTSWSports.