Young softball team learning on the fly
The landscape of college sports is changing. In basketball and football, for example, it is rare to see seniors playing in prominent roles in the new era of declaring early for the draft. Many baseball players declare early as well. However, it’s a known fact that senior leadership and experience is invaluable and can’t be taught. Despite that, the Charlotte 49ers softball unit is learning on the fly, and their youngsters are leading them to wins.
Charlotte is an anomaly, as they have one of the younger teams in Conference USA. The Niners feature four juniors, to go along with six sophomores and two redshirt sophomores. The team has no seniors on the roster. Carson Pace, Spenser Gray and Alison Green are the lone freshmen on the squad.
So far this season, the juniors have been leading the way, but the underclassmen aren’t far behind. Haley Pace, an infielder from Winston-Salem, leads the team in batting; she’s hitting .443 and has 12 home runs on the year to go with 34 RBIs. Second in line is Grace Beatty, an infielder from nearby Olympic High School. Beatty is batting .369 and has 30 RBIs to go with three homers this season.
Third in line is sophomore Meredith Harris, who bats .325 and has 25 RBIs. Meanwhile, Emma Ocker (sophomore outfielder, .301, 16 RBIs) and Spenser Gray (.308, nine RBIs) give Charlotte two more underclassmen in the top five for batting percentages.
On the pitching side of things, junior Haley Wiseman leads the way for Charlotte with a 16-10 record and an earned run average of 5.43. Sophomore Lauren Riley follows with a 2-3 record and 5.21 ERA; freshman Alison Green follows her with a 3-4 record on the season and a 5.43 ERA. Altogether, the three have helped Charlotte to a 22-17 record with 15 of those wins coming on the road. The Niners are 5-7 on the road and 5-6 in neutral site games, but winning on the road is a skill that comes with experience.
“That’s the great thing, when people ask me how we’re going to do this year,” Charlotte coach Aimee Devos said before the season. “Obviously, the newest part of the team is the pitching- – every other part of the lineup has been there and played 50-plus games in those spots. You can’t beat experience, and we truly get that, even with a young group.”
Wiseman and Beatty have been doing their best to set an example for the young Niners. Wiseman learned the ropes while playing behind last year’s decorated senior Lexi Betancourt. Wiseman ended the year with 12 wins and 154 strikeouts, which was the fourth most in the conference. This year, she has won the Conference USA Pitcher of the Week award twice and earned 16 wins.
“We’re feeling really good and we’ve been working really hard as a team,” Wiseman said before the season began. “Last year we were young, but this year we’ve all played with each other besides two people. I feel like we can build on that and have a really good season because we know each other… we’ve played so many innings together. I feel like everyone has that trust in each other.”
Meanwhile, Beatty has been performing well for the defense. The infielder has a 97 percent fielding average and also won Conference Player of the Week on April 3rd. Charlotte’s team defense has allowed them to get out of jams and finish close innings in a number of games this year.
“We don’t have any seniors, but when you go through that junior class, you still have people who have been well-tested and have been out there. We’re relying on their leadership,” Devos said. “We have two newcomers, but they’re going to get thrown in the fire and be a part of the success of this team.”
All in all, a majority of last year’s returners played big time minutes behind last year’s senior class. Now, with that class gone, the youngsters have an opportunity to prove themselves on the diamond and continue to build on what’s been a successful year so far. They have the pieces and the fuel to make a run late in the year, and the competition will only serve as better preparation for these young players.