Randolph-Macon softball had high hopes entering the 2014 season. But no one could anticipate the unusual road that was the regular campaign.
Weather continually postponed games and practices. Rhythm and routine were difficult to attain. With most affairs of the doubleheader nature, the Jackets were forced, on one weekend, to play six games in 48 hours.
Attrition left just 12 players on the roster Friday when the Jackets hosted Shenandoah for their Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) finale. When it was over, two freshmen, one counted upon since fall practice to play a big role this season, the other almost an afterthought, not guaranteed to play this season, helped carry Randolph-Macon to victory.
Pitcher Kelsey McLaughlin (Douglas Freeman) shook off a rough first inning start, and kept Shenandoah off the scoreboard in the final six innings, giving her teammates time to complete a comeback as the Jackets took game one by a 5-3 count.
After two quick outs in the first, McLaughlin uncharacteristically issued consecutive walks. Lindsay Corbin took advantage, sending a pitch to the top of the center field wall, where it bounced over the fence for a three-run home run to give the Hornets a quick 3-0 lead. McLaughlin settled down from there, retiring the next eight hitters while the Jackets responded with their bats.
Sophomore Scoop Simon singled to start the first, was sacrificed to second and later scored from third on a wild pitch. In the second, Jenna Best led off with a single and scored two batters later when third baseman Katie Lockett singled down the left field line. After a walk and hit by pitch loaded the bases, Lockett scored on a Sam Moore sacrifice fly to center. The game was tied.
Enter Lockett again in the third. With two out and two on, Lockett again singled to left, bringing in Sharese Jarvis with the go-ahead run.
When you add in key defensive stops, including fielding a bunt down the third base line with her bare hand, Lockett, who graduated from Matoaca High in Chesterfield, had a red-letter day, impressive for someone far down the depth chart when the season began.
“My teammates have supported me, which has helped me perform a lot better,” Lockett explained. “Their support helped me stay confident during the change from high school to college. The game is much quicker.”
While Lockett came on strong late in the campaign when called upon, McLaughlin has been the pitching engine that could, finishing 12-5 with 14 complete games and a 2.04 ERA. She looks back on the Jackets’ 22-10 season and sees how she has matured in the circle.
“My composure has gotten a lot better, making sure things that happen don’t get to me, you know, like the first inning today,” McLaughlin explained with a smile. “I’m also focused more on how I pitch when ahead with two strikes. I make them chase.”
McLaughlin’s tag team partner in the circle all season, sophomore Jenna Best, delivered one of her best performances in Game 2, limiting Shenandoah to a run on six hits to toss her 11th complete game and finish with a 10-5 mark as the Jackets took a 4-1 victory in Game 2. Simon backed her up with a lead-off home run in the first, then plated Best on a sacrifice fly in the fourth.
Sam Moore (Patrick Henry) hit her ODAC-leading 10th homer of the season also in the first inning of the victory. Moore leads the ODAC in slugging percentage at an astounding .812. With four hits on the day, Simon finished the season with 53 overall.
Randolph-Macon now travels to Salem to begin ODAC Tournament play on Friday with their seeding up in the air. Currently in fourth place, they have a chance to overtake Randolph College for the third seed if the Wildcats lose both games of a Wednesday afternoon doubleheader at Guilford, held after press time.
Why is this important? The fourth seed is in the same bracket as top-seeded Virginia Wesleyan, who are 33-5 and have only allowed 22 runs all season. The third seed avoids a possible matchup with the Marlins until the championship round.
Either way, with plenty of offensive potential, a freshman pitcher playing beyond her years, and help from unlikely sources, Randolph-Macon has what it takes to make a statement in Salem.