Lancers learn their roles in time to win

Published 12:09 pm Thursday, June 8, 2017

Longwood University’s 2017 softball team struggled in ways that its 2016 squad did not, but the 2017 Lancers adapted to their new roles and found their confidence in time to make the season’s conclusion a successful one.

After starting the season 7-14 and struggling early against conference foes, they went on to three-peat as Big South Conference tournament champions, and they returned to an NCAA regional championship game for the second straight year, going 2-2 in the NCAA Knoxville Regional.

The Lancers’ final record for 2017 was 30-29 in marked contrast to their 40-20 run in 2016.

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Accounting for why the two runs to a successful conclusion were so different, Longwood Head Coach Kathy Riley said, “I really think leadership had a lot to do with it. Last year, we lost three seniors and one started at short, one at second, one at first.”

She was referring to Emily Murphy, Carly Adams and Jamie Barbour, respectively.

“When we had Emily and Carly and Jamie, they were doing a lot of the decision-making for our team that put us in a good position,” Riley said. “And so it was a new role for some other kids coming in about how to handle the leadership role correctly.”

The coach said the other factor was her being aware of this and helping those new leaders along the way.

“I should have done that much earlier in the season than I did, so I think those were the two biggest factors as to why it was so different (from 2016),” she said.

Recalling when the season became particularly difficult, Riley brought up her team’s first regular season Big South series, a three-game stint at Campbell University on March 18-19.

The Lancers gave up a six-run lead to lose 10-9 in one of those games, and there had been some changes in their lineup that hurt them, making it easy to point fingers, Riley said.

“I don’t think my players did it near as much as people on the outside,” she said. “I felt like the players handled it probably better than maybe some of our parents and our fans — who expected us to do so much better — did, and it probably increased the pressure a little bit for us.”

Riley noted how the game of softball and baseball helps teach the importance of compartmentalizing negative things that happen, putting them in their proper place.

“And we weren’t doing (that) as well as we should have early, and then I thought late, we did a tremendous job of doing that,” she said. “And I can’t tell you how calm and confident they were in the conference tournament and the regionals both. It was almost like the story of two different groups.”

The coach’s high point of the season is one in which Lancers fans were able to play an important part.

“Us winning that conference tournament in front of our home fans and the setting with us being the host, I think, was the highlight of the year,” Riley said.

Leading her list of standouts for the season was senior pitcher Elizabeth “Biz” McCarthy, who was named to the 2017 All-Big South first team and broke Longwood’s all-time strikeout record.

“For her to come through her senior year was a big deal for us,” Riley said. “Two years she was Pitcher of the Year and didn’t finish as well, and this year, she got to finish on a high note. I thought she did a superb job of pitching at the end of the year.”

The coach also praised sophomore pitcher Sydney Gay for returning from injury to pitch well in the conference and NCAA tournaments.

“Probably the most consistent performer we had all season was (Kaylynn) ‘Bug’ Batten,” Riley said. “Not only did she improve from last year, but she made it easy for us to have some consistency.”

A sophomore catcher who made her inaugural appearance on the all-conference first team this year, Batten led the Lancers with a .295 batting average and 51 hits, including 15 doubles.

Sophomore outfielder Jordan Clark drew praise from Riley for the comfort-level and effectiveness she demonstrated at the plate in what was essentially her first year playing after being sidelined by injury in 2016.

Riley also highlighted senior Justina Augustine for switching to shortstop and playing well there.