Triumvirate of pitchers to lead team back to postseason
After a roller coaster of emotions last season, from the highs of exceeding preseason expectations to the lows of falling just short in the conference championship, the softball team returns three pitchers who are ready to go to battle arm-in-arm with each other.
Juniors Savannah Heebner and Presley Bell combine with sophomore Trystan Melancon to give the Cougars a powerful triumvirate on the mound. The pitchers were essential in getting the Cougars to the conference title game last season, combining to win 30 games. That experience will be key to going even further this season.
In addition to helping their peers develop, they also understand that head coach Kristin Vesely has played a major role in their progress.
“She’s helped us calm down,” Bell said. “She’s made us realize that we are going to make mistakes but that it’s not the end of the world, so she’s helped us bounce back from that and learn how to be more resilient on the field.”
Coach Ves, as she is affectionately known by the team, is doing everything she can to help her pitchers, as they are using a shorter staff than in years past. After using a five-woman rotation last year, the Cougars are down to only three this season. Vesely has stated that her goal this season is to get the offense going early in games in order to provide her pitchers with some relief.
For their part, the pitchers have expressed their belief that if they give everything that they have on the mound every night, the fielders will recognize that and in turn give everything they have to help the pitchers out.
“I think just focusing on the job that we can control, just giving our team a chance to win every time we’re in the circle,” Bell said. “We can’t really control what goes on behind us, but if we’re giving them a fighting chance we know they’ll step up, so when we play with confidence and they know we’re playing for them, they in turn play for us.”
Part of the success of this iteration this season has been the experience they gained from last year. All three pitchers, who threw at least 50 innings last season, saw action in at least 22 games.
Heebner led the team in wins, innings pitches and strikeouts last season, and she also led the team in both runs and walks allowed. When asked to articulate the biggest difference from last season to this one, Heebner provided a simple and straightforward response.
“I feel like last year we were more of a growing team and still getting used to all the new players because we were still a young team,” Heebner said, “but this year it’s a lot more sophomore, junior, senior oriented, so we’re a little more grown up and we know how we work together as a team.”
Building off past success
After authoring resounding victories this season against foes Texas Tech and Ole Miss, respectively, Heebner and Melancon have expressed confidence in their abilities to dominate on the mound. Bell, for her part, has improved her ERA in each season she has played.
The pitchers have played well this season, with each of them improving their ERA category as compared to last season. While she is still searching for her first recorded win of the season, Bell has already started half as many games as she did last season.
As a freshman last season, Melancon was essentially thrown into the fire, pitching the second most innings on the team: 113.1. She managed to compile 12 wins and almost reached triple digits in strikeouts, all while recording nine complete games.
“It gave me a lot more confidence by showing me what level of teams I can compete against,” Melancon said, “and it also showed me that I can pitch that many innings and be consistent.”
A combined effort
Often, a team can have multiple players who are all talented but seem to care more about personal statistics than team success. That is not the case for the softball team.
For the two who are not pitching on any given night, they say that their voices are the loudest ones emanating from the dugout, proudly cheering their friend and teammate on.
When asked what their personal goals are for this season, the shared interest in team success shined through. These girls do not talk about recording a certain number of strikes. They do not discuss ERA goals. There is no talk of any personal stats.
“We want to win conference and make it to [Super Regionals],” Bell said, while her partners on the mound echoed the same sentiment. “We don’t look at who is striking out the most batters. We don’t look at who’s pitching the most innings. We just look at the final score.”