SOFTBALL LOSES A FEW KEY STARTERS BUT RETURNS A SOLID NUCLEUS
(In a probably-way-too-early look at Louisville Softball for 2020, columnist Jared Anderson takes a look at who could be key for Holly Aprile's team next season).
With Paulie covering a wide range of women's basketball news yesterday it left the door open for me to talk about my favorite sport we cover here at CARDINAL COUPLE.
Softball season has just ended for the gang that graces Dan Dobina Field at Ulmer Stadium and it was a highly successful one for the Cards. They did something no one squad had ever done before in winning the first two games of their NCAA Regional assignment -- in Holly Aprile's first year as head coach. The 35-23, 12-12 record is a good start toward greater successes down the road. Pending no transfers-out and players retiring from the game, Louisville definitely has strengths returning...before we even look at new additions
PITCHING should not be a problem for UofL. Both Taylor Roby and Danielle Watson return to the circle and I can see them splitting the majority of the time there. Paige Schindler is also listed as a right-handed pitcher. Kyra Snyder saw action in the circle as well. The loss of Megan Hensley, although significant, is one of those things you can't avoid...players eventually graduate and move on.
CATCHING should be very solid with Rebecca Chung behind the plate. Between her powerful bat and ability to gun down runners on base, it's hard not to imagine her seeing the bast majority of time in front of the umpire. Cassidy Greenwood is listed as a catcher as well and showed dependability in her playing time. Madison Cousineau saw some starts for the Cards in 2019 behind the plate and will be missed.
FIRST BASE should continue to be strong with Kyra Snyder covering the bag. As mentioned, she's also listed as a pitcher but only made two appearances in the circle for a total of five innings. She played almost every other inning "at the bag" and did it quite effectively in 2019. Unless Aprile decides to move her into a pitching role, she should be covering first for UofL in 2020.
Madison Ciaccio has experience at the spot also.
SECOND BASE. When Blaire Bass went down with the knee injury early in 2019, Maddy Newman took over the position and was a ball magnet on the right side of the diamond. Newman also showed she had some very good hitting skills and I expect to see her continue to grow and develop for Louisville.
SHORTSTOP. Caitlin Ferguson has played both short and third in her three years at Louisville and would appear to have short "locked down" again, unless Aprile moves her to third. She was the starter at short in 2019 and made some very nice plays there.
THIRD BASE. This is an area that Aprile will need to fill, with Sidney Melton's graduation. Eden Mayo, Erin Wilbur and Madison Ciaccio are all listed as reserve infielders. Does Aprile go there, or move someone from another position to "the hot corner" or put a freshman by the bag? We'll watch with interest the developments there.
CENTER FIELD. This is Celene Funke's domain and she plays the spot with abandon and fiery competition. Moving over from left after the 2018 season and graduation of Nicole Pufahl, Funke made herself right at home covering the middle of the outfield and we can see no reason she won't do the same in 2020.
RIGHT FIELD. Megan Hensley saw a lot of time there in 2019 and Riley Schindler patrolled the area when Hensley was in the circle. Aprile will have a key decision to make for 2020. Does she move Wolfe to right or put Schindler in the spot full time? Could Butler go to right? Another spot we'll be watching and wondering about when the squad gathers in the spring for pre-season ball.
So, the Holly Aprile Era has begun and year one is complete. The former Pittsburgh coach led the Cards to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2016 and to their first "winner's bracket" final.
Highlights would include several major wins against top 25 programs. Two against FSU, a walk-off victory over Kentucky, a win at Virginia Tech, a win over Missouri -- plus victories against Northwestern and Michigan.
We saw plenty of spotlight moments from Softball's student-athletes. Charley Butler and Jordyn Wolfe both "dove" their way into SportsCenter Top 10 recognition with amazing fielding catches. Rebecca Chung and Taylor Roby each received praise from "that four-letter network for their walk-off hits against FSU and Kentucky.
Several individuals had seasons that ranked them in certain categories in the NCAA and several program records fell this season.
-- 11th in the country with 35 stolen bases. A school record
-- 23rd at .60 steals per game
-- 4 steals against Morehead St., a school record for a game.
-- 68 career steals, good for second all-time career at UofL
-- 157 runs scored, placing her in the top three in UofL history
-- 31st in the nation with 29 steals
-- 13 triples, good to lead the NCAA this season and a UofL single-season record
-- 15 career triples, currently in a tie for second all-time at Louisville.
-- Funke still has a year to go, so we expect there are many more record within her reach
-- Four grand-slams, tying her for first in Cardinal program history
-- 38 home runs, good for a tie for second all-time at UofL
-- Nine career saves from the circle, fifth in program history
-- With 543.2 innings pitched, she is fifth in program history
- 50 career wins, fifth in program history
-- 164 strike outs, a career-high and 72nd in the nation
-- 269 career strike outs put her in the top 10 in program history. She still has two years remaining to better this mark.
Some team numbers of note would include leading the nation in triples in 2019 (31) and stealing 106 bases, putting them 16th.in the country in this stat. 311 runs scored tied them for 33rd. in the nation and 5.36 runs per game is 42nd. in the country.
The Cards do lose five seniors, in Hensley, Melton, Cousineau, Bass and Darianne Hale. Hensley and Melton spent their entire careers at Louisville, the other three were transfers into the program. All will be remembered for their contributions in their careers and missed.
Stats aside, this squad set the tone for what expectations can be for Louisville softball. They were one of five ACC squads to make the NCAA Tournament and as Aprile starts to get "her players" on campus and the team grows even more familiar with "Holly-Ball", I fully expect the Cards to climb even higher in the polls, ACC and make yearly runs in the NCAA Tournament.
Happy Wednesday and GO CARDS