With the season just a week away, hokiesports.com wraps up its preview of the 2013 Virginia Tech softball team in a three-part series. Today, we look at the offensive possibilities the coaching staff has at its disposal.
“Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer.” - Ted Williams
Be it baseball or softball, it remains the same: you fail more times than you succeed at the plate. But with Virginia Tech’s 2013 offense, coaches and fans have high hopes that this could be an offense that puts up big numbers and produces up and down the lineup, day-in and day-out. With all nine of the regulars back from a 2012 squad that set new school records for home runs in a season, this group is eager to pick up where it left off after finishing the year on a hot streak at the plate.
The top of the order will likely remain the same with sophomores Lauren Gaskill and Kylie McGoldrick providing a dynamic 1-2 punch to lead things off. They will probably be followed by senior Courtney Liddle, who enters her senior season ranked first in school history in career on base percentage (.458), second in career home runs (25), second in career walks (101), second in career hit by pitch (22), second in career slugging percentage (.555), ninth in career batting average (.310) and tied for 10th in career RBIs (99).
“Gaskill is about as dangerous as anyone in that leadoff position and then you put Kylie behind her,” associate head coach Al Brauns said. “Kylie can do so many things. She’s a great bunter, but I’m not sure we have to bunt her all the time. She makes such good contact up there that we can use our speed with Gaskill and try a lot of different things rather than just automatically sacrificing her. We’ll want to get Courtney as many at bats as possible, so you’ll likely see her in the three spot. She’s one of the best hitters I think that we’ve ever had here. Her ethic is so good in the batter’s box and she makes the pitcher work, so she’s up there with the likes of Michelle Meadows in terms of the all-time greats here.”
After that, it could be any of four players in the next three spots, depending on who’s hot at the plate and who’s in the lineup. Amanda Ake, Betty Rose, Kelsey Mericka and Dani Anderson could move around in the lineup here until head coach Scot Thomas finds the winning formula.
“We’re lucky because we have a lot we can look at,” Brauns said. “Any one of those four could be a four hitter and then whoever isn’t in the four spot will go into the five and six holes. And when you think about one of those caliber of players batting in the six spot, that’s a heck of a lineup. That doesn’t even get to Logan Spaw, who will be our top designated player again, and is one of the most-clutch players we’ve had here. She’s a gamer. You put her in the situation, she’s going to get it done and if that means putting her in the seven spot, my goodness.”
“Kat Banks can hit any ball out with her bat speed,” Brauns said. “She’s like a four-hole hitter in the eight spot. With Bkaye, we probably did her an injustice her first couple of years trying to make her a slapper more than anything. But we’ve come to realize she’s a better swing-away hitter and she makes good contact with a little pop off the bat.”
The battle for the starting nine batters will be a constant one and it’ll depend on who’s hot at the plate. There’s competition for the starting jobs, but there’s also quite a battle forming for the top pinch hitters. If they don’t crack the starting lineup, look for Jessica McNamara, Bailey Liddle (when not pitching), Laura Wolff and Nina Compton to get their chances.
“Jess McNamara had a really impressive fall, hitting the ball with a lot of contact and a lot of pop,” Brauns said. “She could start in a lot of lineups with her hitting. For most teams in the ACC, Bailey would be in the top nine and we have to use her nice, lefty swing to our advantage. Laura and Nina both had great falls and they’re going to put the ball in play. It’s going to be a battle. We have 12-14 players who we can put in there so we’re going to have some kids who can hit who will have to sit the bench.”
Katey Smith will be sidelined for a lengthy amount of time after sustaining an injury, but could have been Tech’s top hitter coming off the bench. “I have all the confidence in the world that Katey could come off the bench and get a hit,” Brauns said. If she can’t make it back before the end of the year, she does have a redshirt season available.
Overall, Tech has a pretty speedy starting lineup, but has some options on the bench in terms of pinch runners. Leading the way will be the crafty veteran duo of Wolff and Compton. They were the top two choices last year and will be so again this year.
“Those two are so smart on the base paths,” Brauns said. “They have good speed, but they make themselves better with their smarts and awareness on the bases.
Lauren Darden, who also helps out with the pitching, picked up base running this past fall and adapted quickly. She could be called upon to help out with the pinch running duties and is more than willing to do whatever is best for the team. Additionally, freshmen Morgan McCoy and Kiara Ota are heady players with good speed who could also contribute this year.
Erin Guida is another option and an interesting story. She started her college career as a track runner at the University of Vermont before hurting her back, which forced her out of action. She transferred to Tech in 2011 and was the softball team’s student athletic trainer in the fall. When the coaches realized her history of running, they asked her to try out, even though she’s never played the sport. She’s still learning the game and the rules, but could be a valuable asset down the road.
While the team put up big power numbers last year, the team average dropped nearly 40 points from the 2011 season and getting a couple of those players like Rose, Anderson, Bkaye Smith and Courtney Liddle back to where they were two years ago is a big key to Tech’s success.
“We had a couple of girls who had big drop-offs last year and things like that happen sometimes,” Brauns said. “But I expect them to bounce back. They know how to hit; they know they need to get on base. Overall, I know our batting average wasn’t great last year, but I’ll be shocked if our team batting average isn’t significantly higher this year. Last year, if we had four kids in a slump, we couldn’t get them out of the lineup, but this year if it happens, we have a lot of depth and options to put into the lineup to try and get the best lineup on the field.”
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