By Alexander Haynes
Bobcat Softball Riding Wave into Coastal Carolina
Standing strong at 19-7, and 2-0 in Sun Belt play, the Bobcats softball team has been taking care of their fundamentals in the past several games. Going 2-0 against Georgia State, including a 5-4, 10-inning boxing match, was another display of grit. Beating Incarnate Word and Baylor were slow, controlled climbs in which the Bobcats battled in their own style for seven innings. Moving into the second Sun Belt series against 14-10 Coastal Carolina will demand the same, clean style of play to continue riding a wave of consistency.
Coastal Carolina Chanticleers Roster
The Coastal Carolina Chanticleers are a team who began the season with six of their 10 games ending in complete blowouts. Since late February, however, the Chanticleers have been subject to teams who can blow up the scoreboard with equal power. A 5-8 record since February 23rd is not a total death knell; the true sign of concern is the way they have been decimated in the losses.
Despite those losses, the Chanticleers only separation point between powering over teams and mediocrity is the mental aspect in finishing individual moments. Collectively, they possess a .850 team OPS behind a slugging percentage (SLG) of .479 and an on-base percentage of .367 (OBS). Now, the higher SLG is a question mark, as that analytical line is typical with teams who have great runs and equally abrasive slides (as displayed in their young season).
When the run gets going for the Chanticleers, they are a deadly versatile cast of talent. Seven batters currently hold an OPS of .850 or greater. Courtney Dean and Kassidy Smith lead the team with a 1.260 and 1.07 OPS respectively. Dean has only struck out three times, walked once, hit five home runs, and landed 21 other hits in 50 at-bats. Suffice to say, that is incredible. Smith is the more balanced batter with 16 hits in 53 at-bats, but she also walks 36 percent of the time (19) while striking out 25 percent (13).
The entire team follows a methodology akin to Dean – for example, bench hitter Mackenzie Budinger has yet to walk with only seven hits in 28 at-bats. However, she has added an additional three home runs. Alexis Alvino is also bringing power with numbers eerily reminiscent to Budinger, just doubled. Alvino’s five home runs have been paired with nine walks, but 19 strikeouts.
The note to be taken away on the Chanticleers lineup is they will clean up on mistakes. If a pitcher does not approach each batter uniquely, they will pick up on patterns and punish teams accordingly. Their battle with pitchers is an enticing chess match taken down to the tuning of each individual pitch.
The Chanticleers pitching has been on the back of Ashley Guilette (8-4), Kaitlin Beasley-Polko (6-6), and reliever Taylor Schmidt (only 10 innings). Guilette and Beasley-Polko are juxtaposed in what they prevent and allow. Guilette has walked 52 batters, has five complete games, but allowed nine less hits and 10 less runs; hence, she will lose plate-control quicker, but is analytically more efficient with pitch breadth. Beasley-Polko pitches more to the zone, walking only 31 batters and striking out seven more (77) than Guilette. She has also allowed 61 hits, 39 runs, and given up nine doubles and a triple, implicating that batters will pierce her pitching to the strike zone. No matter, they have 74.1 to 73 innings pitched respectively, and in their own right, will be formidable when allowed to control the flow from the precept.
Leaving off on the last note, the Chanticleers are a team who must be tested in inning one, less they fine-tune confidence. The Bobcats have typically struggled early in games and had to battle their way back. This is a series that must be epitomized by battling pitch-to-pitch with defensive and offensive prowess.
Fortunately, the Bobcats lineup has been developing a balanced approach, functionally getting on base. The team is riding behind the austerity of Hailey MacKay’s 30 hits, 14 walks, and six homeruns, equating to a team leading OPS of 1.192. Ariel Ortiz and Bailee Carter have followed up with .891 and .972 OPS respectively. Both, however, are not only embellished by the temptation of power hits, rather consistency. Ortiz has 11 walks to seven strikeouts and Carter has 10 walks to five strikeouts.
Christina McDowell and Ortiz both add unique traits to the team that have further aided the overall perspective. Ortiz has been cleaning up for batters once they get on base with three homeruns, 23 RBIs, five doubles, and a triple. She is that unique character that can frustrate pitchers, taking them far into a count. McDowell is the batter who will get on base and then create chaos. No batter has owned their specialty more than McDowell. Her average OPS of .718 hides what athleticism can do; her single double and triple have been created due to that quickness, and she has yet to be caught stealing, now with eight.
The batting lineup can puncture the Chanticleer’s pitching if the early lineup continues to string together hits and the latter half can get on base once they turn back to lead-off. This weekend’s test will be about who can control and mentally own each pitch.
Randi Rupp has been the pitcher to do just that, and more. Although she has now reached 113.1 innings of pitching, she is holding a 1.67 ERA, striking out 139 batters, and walking only 21. Watching Rupp is an incredible science in planning and controlling the narrative of opposing batters. If there is one pitcher who can play chess against the Coastal Carolina power-hitters, it will be Rupp.
The biggest test of McKenna Fryar’s freshman career thus far will be against Coastal Carolina. She has tentatively been balanced against veteran batters, allowing only minimal scoring. By contrast, this will be the first power-hitting team that Fryar will face, leaving little room for error. She has allowed only two homeruns thus far with seven runs in 34 innings pitched. The question is once she processes the lineup once or twice, how much variety in pitch type she can scare the Chanticleers with.
Featured image by Nicole Wolf