Junior catcher, Paige Holmes helps prepare the young freshmen team at practice, Tuesday at the LU Softball Complex. UP photo by Cassandra Jenkins.

Junior catcher, Paige Holmes helps prepare the young freshmen team at practice, Tuesday at the LU Softball Complex. UP photo by Cassandra Jenkins.

LU softball to start season with young roster

Last year’s Lamar University softball team was one for the books. 

The 2017-18 squad went to the Southland Conference tournament before being defeated in game three. However, their post-season continued after being invited to the National Invitational Softball Championship and making it all the way to the title game. 

But, this year’s team will be very different. After the loss of senior all-conference pitcher, Ciara Luna, and ejection of two junior key players (Sable Hankins and Brittany Rodriguez) the roster was left empty, only to be filled by 16 freshmen, sophomores and junior college transfers to form the second youngest team to set foot on the LU Softball Complex field.

“This is team six,” head coach Holly Bruder said. “We started the program in 2013, so we’re still young, but we don’t use that as an excuse. This is #TeamSix. That’s what we’re doing this year and this is the second youngest team I’ve had since we started the program. Just because we’re young and inexperienced does not mean we are not good softball players. It does not mean we’re not going to win games. “Some of our decision making and inexperience shows in practices and games, but we will be a young club that I think will get better as we go. We have already proven that through the fall and into spring, now, but, no wins or losses yet so it’s hard to tell.”

Bruder said a tough non-conference schedule will help the young team learn quickly and prepare them for a tough season. 

“In 2015, we went to a tournament, (the) Sand Dollar Classic in Orange Beach,” she said. “They treated us very well. (They had) quality teams and we want to play quality teams.”

Bruder said LU finished No. 89 last year out of 265 teams in the RPI index.

IMG_7100The coach said she wants the team to gain experience by playing some of the best teams in the country. 

“We are going back to Sand Dollar Classic, and we’re playing Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech on day one — very good teams.,” she said. “We are also playing Alabama and Lipscomb University, which were both top 40 winners — one won a national championship. Then on Sunday we’re playing Ole Miss., FCC champs from last year. We’re getting on the ground running from the get-go. 

“Then were going to Mississippi State and UTSA who also have great RPIs and programs. My philosophy in February is to challenge my kids as much as we can, and make March, April and May a little bit easier because we’ve already seen some of the best of the best.”

Bruder said she has high, but realistic, hopes for this year’s team. 

“I think the faces change, the names and numbers change, but our expectations of winning do not change,” she said. “Our short-term goals are focusing on February. How good are we going to do in February? We’re playing four tournaments, one of them we’re hosting. Five games at each tournament give or take, playing 15-20 games. I want to get as much experience as we can.

  “Go 20-0? Absolutely. But I want to get experience and keep getting better through those games. I want to see us grow. I want to see us hit. I want to see us pitch well. I want us to not make routine errors. My short-term goal is just to keep getting better, stay positive and, hopefully, win along the way.”

After February, Bruder said her goals are to make strides hitting in March and starting off undefeated in the Southland Conference.

“I want us to start off conference, 8-0, 10-0, 12-0,” she said. “Historically, we have done that in the past. We’ve been 9-0, 12-0, 10-1, something like that. That still remains a short-term goal for us.” 

Bruder said the thing she loves most about this year’s team is their mentality.  

“We have a great attitude,” she said. “We work very hard in practice. Some of our practices are three to four hours. There is no complaining. We hit the weight room right after. From 2:30-7 p.m., these kids are either working out or playing softball. There are no complaints. No laziness. I love where our mindset is. Can we back that up with talent? We’ll find out this weekend (at the Sand Dollar Classic).”

In terms of offense and defense, Bruder said she will need new players to step up in order to have a well-balanced team. 

“I have probably my best hitter right now as a sophomore,” she said. “That’s great for the future and that’s great for now. The kid won a 5A championship two years ago as a senior in high school. She hit a three-run homer, so she knows about big games and winning.” 

Bruder said the team will rely on new leaders this year. 

“We are going to need some new kids to step up, instead of relying on those kids who either graduated or are not there we are going to have to have some freshmen doing some great things,” she said. “I’ll tell you what I love about freshmen and transfers. There are no scouting reports on them. Nobody knows who these young kids are. They have an opportunity to get up there and make a name for themselves — hit pitches that they may never see again. They have a (chance to make a) difference, to impact the team right now, and I think that’s pretty cool.” 

Besides having the element of surprise, Bruder also said this is the fastest and hardest working team she has coached in six years.

“I think having some underdogs and kids who have never been seen is pretty awesome,” she said. “People will look around and say, ‘This team is pretty good, who are these guys?’ 

“Young kids want to learn. Young kids usually learn at a rapid pace – I love seeing that. I hope that mentality doesn’t change. I hope when it comes time to play games, that we play with no fear.”

Bruder said she hopes to see a lot of fan support this year and that people will come out to watch the team. 

“The fans have been very supportive,” she said. “I love that Beaumont is supporting softball. We hand deliver our season tickets. We love fans in the stands. 

“I’m asking fans to be a little patient. We are going to try a couple little things this season. We have a young club. We might lose some games that we have traditionally won, just because we’re learning and growing. But, I appreciate the support and hope that they continue to support us throughout the thick and thin.” 

LU opens the 2018 season, Friday, facing Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech on the first day of the Sand Dollar Classic in Gulf Shores, Ala. 

The home opener is a doubleheader against nationally-ranked Washington Huskies at 2 pm. Feb. 19.

Story by Cassandra Jenkins, UP managing editor

Learn more about Lamar University at lamar.edu

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