Softball ready to hit it into NCAA tournament

Guilford College softball sophomore outfielder Kayli Blankenship throws the ball to sophomore infielder Sarah Adams at practice on Feb. 2, 2018.//Photo By Andrew Walker/The Guilfordian

The Guilford College softball team has added talent to a team that broke many records last season. Guilford set the College records for most wins in a season with 30 overall and Old Dominion Athletic Conference victories, with 14.

“The girls had great chemistry, they weren’t playing for themselves and (were) playing for teammates. They just played good ball,” said Head Coach Dennis Shores.

Although the team set multiple records last year, the success did not translate in the postseason. The Quakers were seeded in third place in the ODAC tournament, but a loss to sixth-seeded Roanoke College dropped them into the elimination bracket. After a victory over seventh-seeded Eastern Mennonite University, the Quakers were eliminated by Emory & Henry College.

This year’s team is returning many of the key players from last year and added some more first-years to improve the team. Guilford returns a lot from its high-powered offense that was near the top nationally in multiple statistics. Last season, Guilford led all divisions of the NCAA in batting average with a .381 average. Guilford returns with sophomore outfielder Kayli Blankenship, junior outfielders Makayla Carver and Sabrina Moreno and junior catcher Makayla Crawford, who were four of the top five in batting average.

“I knew we were really strong in Division III, I didn’t know we were there over all the divisions,” said Shores. “Our focus is middle the bat, middle the ball and just hit it.”

They also were second in the NCAA in doubles per game. Leading the Quakers in doubles was Carver. She had 18 doubles and a .500 on-base percentage. In her first year at Guilford, Blankenship made a big impact, hitting .466, stealing 14 bases and being named to the All-ODAC First Team. The Quakers not only hit for average, but also power as they hit 26 home runs last spring, and Crawford led the team with 6.

“Last season went pretty well except for me tearing my meniscus, so all I really could do is hit for the second half of the season,” said Crawford. “So, I’m ready to be back full force.”

The team also added some good first-years to the team that will look to contribute. The returners have been out practicing all the time to do a better job than last year.

“I’ve been hitting every day up in Alumni (Gym), and I’ll come early on Friday’s and hit with coach Tim (Lackey),” said Moreno. “We practice at game speed every day.”

The Quakers’ pitching staff lost only one member after last season and look to improve on its 3.25 team ERA. Senior Courtney Lackey made 20 starts and had a 3.44 ERA and looks to improve in her final year.

“I’m looking forward to it with it being my senior year, but I’m also kind of sad that I probably won’t ever play softball again after this year, but I’m trying not to think about it right now,” said Lackey. “I’m just trying to play this year as well as I can in order to go out on top.”

Carver is not only a top hitter for the Quakers, but also made 17 appearances on the mound last season. She went 10-3 and had a very good 1.95 ERA in 86 innings pitched. The whole team believes that they can improve on last season and are setting higher goals.

“(My goal) for me personally is to better myself on the mound and my presence on the mound,” said Carver.

As well as returning some key players in the pitching rotation, Guilford will add a couple of young arms to their pitching staff and some returners will have more opportunities this year.

“We’re stronger, our number 1 and number 2 is back, Courtney (Lackey) and (Carver),” said Shores. “Julie (Gough was) a (first-year) last year, so she’s gained valuable experience. And then we have a couple (first-years), so we’re pretty good.”

This season the team was voted in fifth place in the ODAC preseason poll. Virginia Wesleyan University was picked in first place after winning the NCAA Division III Championship last year, and they have the Division III National Player of the Year Hanna Hull returning for her sophomore season.

“I think we’ll be strong this season,” said Shores. “The ODAC is a strong conference so you never know where you’re going, just got to play the game. The thing is for us to be consistent.”

The team opens the season tomorrow, Feb.10, at Averett University before traveling to Salem College on Sunday. The first home game for the Quakers is on Feb. 21 against Methodist University.

The team has high expectations for itself this season and needs many players to step up if they want to build on the success of last season.