By Alexander Haynes
Entering the weekend having won the last four games, consisting of a processional sweeping of University of Louisiana-Monroe and a mid-week win over rival UTSA, the 21st-ranked Texas State Softball team had everything going for them. Consistent batting, austere pitching, and resilience ingrained from dedicated coaching made the trip to Troy another prime spot for the softball team to win. Yet, the Troy Trojans were making a final stand at home for the 2018 season, and with an opportunity to end their home record above .500, they had other ideas in mind. Extra innings and unrelenting moments dominated the Saturday double headers, as Troy ultimately walked away with Saturday, leaving Texas State to take the Sunday battle.
Saturday Double Header One
Randi Rupp taking the mound for the Bobcats has become a 2018 tradition begetting courage and exhilaration. Thus, for good reason, she was drafted fourth overall by the Cleveland Comets in the Pro Fastpitch draft. Days later, she was announced as a top-25 finalist for the USA Softball collegiate player of the year. Her mechanical pitching, team encouragement, and jovial attitude amidst a striking stare when pitching has made Rupp a truly special member of her team.
Stating that before delving into the Saturday double header is important– despite giving up four runs, she allowed only five hits while striking out another eight batters, throwing all 7.2 innings of the game. The Troy batters were able to string together enough moments inside of the game to score those runs, capitalizing on opportunity.
However, Rupp has been resilient in learning from the subtle errors. While this weekend series was not a resounding win, the results are not representative of a pitcher tiring – softball is a process of ebbs and flows.
Not only does the season ebb and flow, but so do games. This appears no more so than the first of the double-header series which began with Jaclyn Molenaar walking on an eight-pitch count and quickly being ushered to second on Mari Cranek bunting. Ariel Ortiz singling to left field to score Molenaar, then stealing second, finished off the tone-setting inning. Although the Bobcats had scored only one run, Troy pitcher Peyton Grover had already burned through 27 grueling pitches.
The bottom of the first inning was the ebb to the flow of the top. Logan Calhoun reached first on a fielding error. A subsequent fielding error let Katie Webb onto first, yet had the unintended result of also putting Calhoun out at second. The intermixing sloppy in-fielding was reminiscent of those haunting analytical points which led to losses in the beginning of the season. Stephanie Snyder took the next pitch, a rare moment of a poorly placed pitch by Rupp, for a home run to put the Trojans up 2-0.
Most teams can use a home run to identify a pitcher’s toolbox weakness. On the flipside, Rupp used her one mistake to become more efficient. After the first, innings for Troy became abbreviated. After Texas State scored the tying run in the top of five, and then the leading run from a Haleigh Davis in the top of eight, three outs separated the team from another win.
The simple errors from the first, however, came to fruition as Taylor Corbett reached first on a past ball for the lead-off of inning eight. A tiring Rupp allowed a single, then intentionally walked Calhoun to load the bases. Walking Calhoun would become the main question leaving this game – from an analytical standpoint, the odds were on Rupp putting a ground or pop out instead of allowing a deep hit. The leverage of no outs and bases loaded is excruciating for even the most austere pitchers to fight through.
A hit one batter later tied the game. Hope was killed after an infielder error lead to the winning run scoring on a would be third out; the Trojans’ lack of momentary mistakes gave them the 4-3 victory.
Double Header Game Two
Having the victory in game one, then losing it on an infielder error, cast a dark shadow on the team. A dark silence and lack of attentive batting force covered the team in the second game. Only Bailee Carter and Hailey MacKay would walk away with hits, Carter with one walk.
Annie Willis for the Trojans kept her pitching focused on negating opportunity. There was a willingness to endure longer innings (17 pitches in inning one, as an example) as the Bobcats would spend time contacting the ball for foul balls. The frustrating at-bats lasted the tenure of the game as that dark cloud seemed to ensure the contacted balls simply died in the in-field.
On the flipside, McKenna Fryar took the mound to commence the game. Her first inning consisted of two fly-outs, and a seven-pitch strike out. Snyder, however, lead off with a single in the bottom of two, was advanced on a sacrifice fly out, and then used her agility on a subsequent single to score from second. A single by Corbett to lead-off the third lead to Meagan King entering the game.
King set a stage for the Bobcats to finish the game with a win. She was brilliant, allowing only two hits in 36 pitches and four strike outs over four innings. The abbreviation in strategy was due to the Trojans attempting to hit the first pitch they liked. Credit to King’s scrupulous deception: none of those pitches were friendly for the Trojans.
The Trojans’ little success, however, was good enough to walk away with the 1-0 victory.
Rebounding on Sunday
A night of reflection and an opportunity to face off against Glover and Willis once again procured very different results from the previous day. The first inning exemplified this factor immediately. Although only MacKay would single, 22 pitches with ferocious swings established the Bobcats were not going to go down timidly.
Rupp was also ready to make a statement, striking out Calhoun looking and ending the other two batters in six pitches. Her style of pitching once again paved the path for the Bobcat batters. Tara Oltmann and Carter walked, refusing to be deceived. A bunt from Haleigh Davis processed Oltmann and Carter forward. In an odd turn of sloppiness, Oltmann darted home to score the first run.
The second and third runs came just two batters later as Cranek’s careful bunting pushed Kennedy Cline to second. Molenaar took advantage of the opportunity of the runners in scoring position, sending a reverberating double to center field. MacKay sending a homerun to left field ended the scoring in the top of three, but also ended the day for Glover. The Bobcats would attempt steals and sneaky base path strategy over the remaining innings, but to no avail as they had in the second.
The frustrating late-game batting, while concerning, is not wholly representative of the standard operation of the batters. Yes, they had scored enough to secure the 4-0 victory while Rupp finished five fast innings, letting King enrapture the last two; yet, those four runs being in the top of the game paints an interesting strategy and narrative heading into the final series against the University of Texas Arlington. The Troy pitchers had more success letting some success go by the way side in exchange for relying on fielding covering pop ups and fly outs.
These games do not represent the norm, rather an interesting footnote to pay attention to. Much like the beginning of the season, the batting lineup must find ways to pin point strings of complementary hits with their varying skill sets.
Featured image by Justin Manor.