ATHENS – A season of superlatives for the Concord University softball program turns a page today as the Mountain Lions begin play in the Mountain East Conference tournament in Salem, Va.
Concord (34-17) has already tied the best win total in program history. Its 22 wins against conference foes is a new CU record. And the Athenians enter the tourney on a nine-game win streak.
Alisa Tasler, in her eighth season as CU softball coach, is telling her student athletes to move on from those numbers.
“We basically break our season up into three different sections, with the conference tournament being its own animal,” she said earlier this week. “The things that you have done in the past, they don’t really matter now. It’s what happens right here and now. So they have to come out with that same fight … .”
“We start back at zeroes and let’s see how far we can go, right now, in this space.”
The Mountain Lions, seeded second in the South Division, are scheduled to play Fairmont State at 2:30 p.m. today at the Moyer Sports Complex. The Falcons (25-21) are the No. 3 seed from the North Division.
Due to weather delays, Concord had to wrap up its regular season with two doubleheaders on the road last Friday and Saturday. This week has been like “rest and recovery time,” Tasler said.
“We’ve got a short season, but we’ve (compressed) a lot of games into that timeframe. That’s one of the biggest things for me, making sure that they’re getting enough time off.”
“They’ve also got the pressures of having finals next week, and those kind of things that they’re stressing out about. We are working on keeping that stress level down for them, so when they get there, they can just focus on the softball and get out there and win some games.”
Tasler said some of this year’s key players were “just a little bit young” last spring, but now they have “kind of really jelled.”
Additionally, she said, “We were able to get out there on the recruiting path and find some really good kids that have come in and really been difference makers for us.”
This week, the conference named junior Jenna Witt as its softball player of the year. Pitcher-outfielder Laura Thompson took freshman of the year honors.
Witt’s 69 hits and .418 batting average are both tops in the conference. She is second in doubles (15) and third in runs batted in (40). She has a slugging percentage of .661, and struck out only nine times in 165 at-bats.
In her first collegiate season, Thompson was the only player in the MEC to score more than 50 runs, crossing home plate 57 times in 2019. She batted .404 with a .503 on-base percentage. As a pitcher, she went 7-5, striking out 57 batters in 76 innings and compiling a 3.59 ERA.
All-conference second team honors went to senior Kylie Kent and to Cartney Schoolcraft, in her first season at CU after transferring from Kentucky Christian.
Kent finished sixth in the league in batting average (.385), seventh in RBI (36) and ninth in runs scored (34) en route to her first all-MEC honor. On Monday, Kent was named conference softball player of the week, for the second time this season.
Tasler said that Kent “is coming on, and just having a fantastic run here at the end. … We’ve got a lot of people who are getting hot at the right time, too, and that makes a big difference.”
Kent will soon be moving on to a career in the information technology field, or IT. Tasler said, “She has had a number of different offers, and options. She’s excited about the future, too, and we’re excited for her.”
Schoolcraft struck out 148 batters from the circle, a new Concord record. She sported a 1.51 ERA in 20 conference games, and overall had a 2.26 ERA and 11 complete games in a season that covered 126 innings.
Tasler said about Schoolcraft, “She’s been great. … When you have that dominant pitcher in the circle, it takes a ton of pressure off of everybody on (offense and defense). She’s getting seven to 10 strikeouts a game; she’s getting almost half of our outs on her own.”
“We’ve been doing a good job of producing runs behind her as well.”
The coach said that in the double-elimination MEC tournament, a team needs as much quality pitching as it can muster. She believes that can come from Schoolcraft, Thompson and junior Darby Fitzpatrick.
Tasler also recognized senior Lauren Blunt, who catches and plays first base.
“She’s done a great job for us, as all of them have,” the coach said. “She’s going to graduate. She’s an academic all-American. She’s been accepted to (graduate) school. These are the kind of kid that we want to represent us, so when we get those recruits in, they see what we’re about.”
Tasler said, “We have been really excited about this team since the very beginning. To be very honest, we have been talking about finding our way back to regionals since the beginning of the year. That has been our goal from the very beginning.”
In the conference tournament, both the winners and losers of Friday’s first-round games advance to a late Friday contest. By winning at least one Friday game, Concord would guarantee itself a Saturday outing. The championship is scheduled for Sunday.
Thunderstorms, which are being predicted for the early part of the weekend, could force numerous alterations in that schedule.
The MEC champ gets an automatic bid into the NCAA Division II Atlantic Region tournament. At least one or two other Mountain East schools are likely to receive at-large bids to fill out the eight-school regional field, based on their standing in the final official Atlantic Region poll – which will be influenced by how well the teams compete in their conference tourneys.
On Wednesday, Concord moved up one spot to sixth in the Atlantic Region list. West Virginia State (31-12) is at the top, while Shepherd (36-14) and West Liberty (32-17) are ranked third and fourth in the region. The other schools in the top seven are from the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.