Yellow Jackets softball team returns dominant line-up

Fans of Randolph-Macon softball knew coming into the 2014 season that scoring runs would not be a problem.

The heart of the Yellow Jackets lineup all return from a team that averaged 5.9 runs per game in 2013 with a .329 batting average, en route to a 34-9 record.

The biggest question would be who would be in the pitching circle. All but 22 innings pitched for Randolph-Macon last year graduated in the form of Heather Lewis and Kristen Dize. But thus far, the answer for the Jackets is a hopeful thumbs-up.

Freshman Kelsey McLaughlin (Douglas Freeman) is off to a 3-0 start after four solid innings in Randolph-Macon’s 9-1, five-inning win Sunday against Franklin & Marshall to complete a doubleheader sweep. Sophomore Jenna Best had a complete game in the 10-1, five-inning opening win.

Madison Gilman makes contact for a single that started a three-run second inning for the Jackets in the first game of their double-header versus Franklin & Marshall.

Madison Gilman makes contact for a single that started a three-run second inning for the Jackets in the first game of their double-header versus Franklin & Marshall.

“We knew coming in our big question mark was pitching,” Randolph-Macon head coach Kevin Proffitt said. “It wasn’t because we didn’t think our pitchers were good, we just didn’t have any that had experience.”

Best pitched 18 innings last year, and was seen as the top hurler coming into the season, but McLaughlin leads a talented group of freshmen getting their first taste of softball at the collegiate level.

“We told Kelsey back over the summer, our defense will make plays behind you. All you need to do is throw strikes. She’s ahead of where we thought she’d be now,” Proffitt noted.

He calls the pitches from the dugout, working to lead his young staff along. Leslie Waller is the other freshman, while Carly Alford rounds out the staff.

The offense returning is scary for Yellow Jacket opponents. They’ve already scored 43 runs in six games, a full run per game ahead of last year’s production. It begins at shortstop with junior Sharese Jarvis, a first-team All-ODAC selection last year (.375 average, 17 HR’s, 50 RBI, 50 runs scored) with a cannon of an arm to anchor the infield defensively

The Patrick Henry connection of fellow first-team All-ODAC player, catcher Madison Gilman (.443 average, 7 HR’s, 48 RBI) and first baseman Katie Woody (.297, 5 HR’s, 26 RBI) returns, and welcomes home a long-time former teammate.

After a year in college in Florida, Sam Moore joins the Yellow Jackets at third base. Moore has already made her presence known, homering in their opening doubleheader with Christopher Newport, then ending Game 1 Sunday with a two-run homer. In the second game, Moore was 2 for 2 with a double and another RBI.

Moore has been with the team since the summer, but felt no added pressure when the season finally arrived.

“I’ve been on the field with these girls for so long, it feels like a sense of being home. I’ve done it for years, so what’s another game?” Moore added with a smile.

“We’re off to a strong start offensively, and the freshmen pitchers have done a great job,” Woody said. “The other freshmen playing are doing awesome; it doesn’t seem like nerves are getting to them too much.”

Rounding out the infield is freshman Taylor Balmaz from King George High School, who has already homered for the Jackets.

Sophomore Christa “Scoop” Simon (.368, 50 hits, 36 runs scored) heads the outfield, joined by a rotation of junior Amanda Sopko (.338, 36 runs scored, 35 stolen bases), senior Carolyn Gilbertson, and newcomer Ashley Stauffer. Simon is expected to bat lead-off for the Jackets.

Randolph-Macon, now 5-1, will have to wait four extra days to return to action, as the latest snowstorm has already cancelled their trip to Delaware for the SeaGull Classic this weekend. The Jackets will have had 10 days without game action when Virginia Wesleyan arrives Wednesday, March 12 for an ODAC-opening doubleheader.

“We work out inside, making sure the pitchers keep throwing and we keep swinging, but it can get stale because you only have so much room to work with,” Proffitt explained.

With weekend temperatures warming into the 60s, expect the Jackets to take advantage and get back outdoors, so their combination of powerful offense and promising pitching will be 100 percent ready when the Marlins, and the rest of the ODAC, start coming to Ashland.

Posted on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 4:11 pm