By Alexander Haynes
The weekend series featured a double header against a team of power hitters – a Coastal Carolina Chanticleers team looking for ownership in the opening Sun Belt Series. The tension heading into the series could have resulted in tightly wound play creating sloppy mistakes. The resulting series, however, was a mix of tension, relaxation and then a game hinting at the underlying efficiency play the Bobcats carry with them. After going 3-0 on the weekend, and rising to 22-7 on the season, the Bobcats softball team is having plenty of fun in their calm approach to Sun Belt play.
Despite the trivial mid-70-degree weather, the foreboding clouds at 1P.M. in the Texas afternoon may have set the tone for the soon to be defensive battle. With Randi Rupp and Kaitlin Beasley-Polko headlining, there was little doubt regarding the type of game.
Rupp began the first inning with three consecutive strike outs, two with batters swinging – the type of inning serving as a reconfirmation of how utterly confusing she can make opposing batters look. Beasley-Polko followed suit by striking out Christina McDowell after seven pitches, then forcing a fly and ground out.
And such manner of gameplay did the following innings flow. The Chanticleers were attempting to power hits deep, embellished in 29 swings and misses thanks to the procedural dynamism coming from Rupp’s arm. The blithering humid climate was an apt description for the continuing frustrating swings and misses as the game went on, including Kailey Mellen swinging and missing three straight times, vainly attempting to power home a double by Natalie David.
By contrast, the Bobcats lineup only had three swings and misses. Although it was an excruciating experience, they were maintaining their methodology and not pinning to the whims of opponents. Beasley-Polko had clearly done her part in preparation, tempting, but not succeeding the allure of pitching to the zone.
As extra innings arrived, Rupp showed no sign of tiring, winning a nine-pitch battle with David to prevent a runner on third from scoring. For the offense, Brianna Sannem, continuing a positive, individual afternoon, double into right field. Hailey MacKay subsequently sent Sannem to third, leaving Ariel Ortiz – a formidable power hitter – in the batter box for the winning RBI.
However, the game commenced in a turn of events unexpected; a shrug of acceptance. Ortiz found her way on the base path, putting Tara Oltmann in the box with the expected, winning live drive. In the most awkward, ironic and surprising way, Oltmann held firm at the plate through four fouls, one taken strike and nine pitches. Pitch 10 was a called ball, implicating the Bobcats would walk off on a walk – a complete flipside to the pitching battle which just occurred, and a nod for plate discipline and the Bobcats being the more prepared team in a 1-0 match.
Saturday Round Two
The 1-0 defensive battle was ultimately a teaser of the games still on the schedule – the second game of the double header was the batters unleashing their frustrations for bottle-necking the first game.
Freshman McKenna Fryar was receiving her toughest test of the season, pitted against the most explosive batting unit yet. The Chanticleers are most verbose when they get to a lead early, which makes the Bobcats’ rallying cry throughout even more impressive after the Chanticleers put three scores through two homeruns on Fryar in the first inning.
The rallying cry began immediately in inning one for the Bobcats when Carter walked into another RBI, scoring McDowell. Unfortunately, this game also saw McDowell get caught stealing for the first time on the season in the second inning. Fortunately, the distraction and risk, was enough to score Jaclyn Molenaar from third. In the third, Haleigh Davis joined in the RBI foray by singling, scoring MacKay from third and tying the game 3-3. Again, the whole outing had a team-oriented, procedural essence. Four more scores in the third inning put the Bobcats ahead 7-3.
As the lead grew, so did Fryar; in the second inning she efficiently put out three batters with pop outs. Whatever meticulous shift in her throwing occurred was paying dividends, as in the third inning she threw a total of four pitches to land three fly outs. In the fourth, the Chanticleers were again epitomized with vanity in trying to land the magical homerun – another three fly outs. And such was the fifth with two foul outs and another fly out.
Fryar finally allowed another score after the Chanticleers adjusted their approach and started swinging for placement in the field of play. David was the batter responsible for the fourth RBI, finally succeeding on her attempts from the first game.
Alas, as the afternoon had gone, the Chanticleers flied out again to close the sixth. Rupp finished the game with a pure seventh inning. Fryar’s final line was a mere 79 pitches in six innings of work, 16 fly outs, four runs and one strikeout. No, not the most verbose analytical line, but her astuteness in the middle of the game speaks loudly for her mental resiliency and strategic focus down the stretch of the season.
The Six Inning Rule
Concluding a game an inning early in softball is a challenge, even when one team is swinging with fierce determination. The Bobcats achieved the six-inning game in their favor on Sunday with a 10-0 victory.
Rupp may have had her most efficient start of the year (a sentence which bears repeating) part and parcel to the way the Chanticleers desperation set in. In 18 batters and 72 mesmerizing pitches, Rupp allowed no walks, struck out 11, flied out four and grounded out three.
After 15 swings and misses and staring blankly at the softball too often, the Chanticleers were failing to pin Rupp under the discomfort of power hitting. The austerity of control won over the stickling temptation of power.
The temptation of going for one, ringing hit might be trivialized to improper; then there is the irony that is what MacKay did by hitting a grand slam in the sixth. There is analytical desperation, then there is analytical opportunity – the latter is the method MacKay personified.
The note on the rare, six-inning victory is not the insane batting, but the proliferation of how analytical opportunistic the Bobcats batting lineup has been. In their wins, the Bobcats have established a ‘chaotic’ pattern of scoring. McDowell or Sannem leading off creates either an athletic or proficient hitter to take the box respectively. McDowell scrambling the bases puts pressure on the pitcher, while Sannem finds traditional and essential ways to join the base path. MacKay is the teams constructive power-hitter; if she finds the right pitch, the latter two batters high OBS puts them in ample scoring opportunity. Ortiz and Oltmann complement with plate patience, functionality and versatility at four and five.
If the Bobcats continue in this subtle notion of complementary and team-oriented construction, then their 22-7 record can expand to memorable success.
Featured image by Marina Bustillo-Mendoza.