By Garth Shanklin
The Clermont Lady Cougars’ softball team had one goal entering the 2017 season: qualify for the World Series. Although Mother Nature has certainly tried to make that difficult, the team finds themselves in position to do just that in the final week of the regular season.
Entering the team’s final two regular season games on Saturday, April 29 against Wright State – Lake Campus (the team’s doubleheader against Miami Middletown one day earlier has been cancelled) the squad sits at 10-6 on the season, fourth in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association standings.
Heading into last weekend’s doubleheader at Midway, the team was on quite the tear, having won six straight games. A doubleheader sweep ended that streak.
Nonetheless, head coach Dan Kinney’s squad is performing better of late, and enters their final two games of the season with a shot at qualifying for the postseason tournament, despite the fact that the team has young players starting at nearly every position.
“Our pitching’s been solid, our catching and defense are coming around,” Kinney said. “We have a young defensive team, the outfield is two-thirds freshman and we have two freshman in the infield. We’re playing really well right now.”
The freshman are also making an impact in the batters’ box for the Lady Cougars. The team is third overall in the USCAA with a .359 team batting average, third in on-base percentage at .421 and seventh in slugging at .456. This despite the fact that Kinney said the team’s hitting in their past series against Midway was not up to par.
“One of my freshman, Regan Inlow, hit a home run in the second game [against Midway], a two-run home run.” Kinney said. “We had a couple errors in the first game [a 5-0 defeat], it should’ve been 2-0 at the most. We didn’t hit well, but they were really solid.”
The Lady Cougars are well represented in the individual leaderboard. Catcher Maggie Block leads the USCAA with a .610 average on the season, while teammate Brittany Freson checks in tied for seventh with teammate Molly Murphy at .523.
Block is one of several freshman who have made their mark on the team this season, and Kinney has taken notice.
“The freshman have really surprised me,” Kinney said. “ Block, Inlow pitches and plays third, she’s been outstanding in the field on defense. Megan McCarthy from Batavia has been an excellent outfielder, and so has Cahill from Bethel-Tate. They’re playing good ball as freshmen.”
The pitching for the Lady Cougars is no small part of the team’s success this season. Inlow has appeared in seven games for UC Clermont and her 2.53 ERA places her firmly in the top 10 in the league. Taber’s 5-2 mark comes with a 2.73 ERA, also among the best in the USCAA. Megan McCarthy has tossed seven scoreless innings, picking up a win in the process. Cahill has allowed five earned runs on the season but has also tallied a victory in the circle for UC Clermont this season.
“Taber gets matched up most of the time with the other team’s best pitcher, she’s held her own against a couple NAIA D2 teams,” Kinney said. “She’s been outstanding.”
The weather has not cooperated for the Lady Cougars this year. Ten of the team’s first 14 games were cancelled, and 20 games have been lost this season total, though as Kinney points out, not all of the cancellations were due to poor weather. A venue change has helped the team get in games this season they normally would not have.
“It’s hard, most of the games were cancelled due to weather,” Kinney said.The field we play it, if it sprinkles we’re done. I moved the games to Tealtown this year, and Wwe probably wouldn’t have played half the games we played. They got fields ready for us that I didn’t think we’d get to play. A couple teams have cancelled due to injuries.”
Nonetheless, the team enters the final stretch of the regular season with a postseason berth in reach.
“We’re right there, being in the top 10 in both the standings and the polls,” Kinney said.
Bid day for the USCAA tournament is on Monday, May 8. Penn State Beaver and the Penn State University Athletic Conference champion both currently receive autobids, leaving eight at-large bids up for grabs.
The Lady Cougars final two home games of the 2017 season are scheduled for Saturday, April 29 against Wright State – Lake at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.