Offense powers best softball start since 2014

Guilford College softball has started the season with a 13-2 record. The team’s record is the best start to a season since the Quakers started 14-1 in 2014.

With a 28-woman roster, and nine of them being seniors, the chemistry and comradery of the team has been nothing but successful for Guilford. Along with their outstanding record and solid start to the season, the softball team has scored 127 runs, have a .390 batting average and 12 home runs as a team.

“We’re playing well,” said head coach Dennis Shores. “(We are) pitching well, hitting is going well.”

Senior catcher Makayla Crawford is hitting .492 with five homeruns. Junior outfielder Natalie Conrad has an Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) leading .525 batting average and .565 on-base percentage. Sophomore infielder Sarah Aukamp (. 475 avg.) and senior infielder Katy Holt (.405 avg.) round out the starters hitting above .400. The Quakers’ team batting average of .390 ranks as eighth best in NCAA Division III. The team also sits 11th in slugging percentage (0.581), 15th in scoring per game (8.47) and 18th in on base percentage (.453) in the nation. Crawford leads the team and the ODAC with 22 runs batted in and has 29 hits, 11th in Division III. Conrad has three of the teams five triples, which places her 11th in the nation.

“A huge part of our success this season has been our bats,” said first-year infielder Casey Bunting. “If we get down on ourselves, we can be sure to count on our other teammates to pick up our spirit.”

The offense has powered the way to victory for the Quakers, but the pitching has quietly been dominant. The team has a 2.16 ERA through the first 15 games, a big improvement from their 3.70 mark last season. Sophomore Katie McNeill has nine wins in 10 appearances this season. She has a 1.98 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 56.2 innings. Sophomore Abigayle Rowell has made seven other starts for Guilford and holds a 2.44 ERA. The Quakers’ two-person pitching department has provided the team with consistent starts. McNeill has thrown two shutouts among her eight complete games and Rowell has one shutout. They have held opponents to 39 runs in 94 innings of pitching. McNeill ranks 23rd in the country and third in the ODAC with her 49 strikeouts.

The team has committed 15 errors this season and holds a .964 fielding percentage, both marks better than last season. The Quakers’ pitching ranks third in the ODAC in hits (87), runs (39) and walks (28) allowed. The Guilford offense leads the ODAC in extra-base hits with 56 in 15 games.

Crawford broke the career record for homeruns on Feb. 27 against North Carolina Wesleyan and has 26 in her four years at Guilford.

One of the two losses this season have come against ODAC opponent Randolph College. The Quakers split a doubleheader on Mar. 17, winning the first game 5-4, before dropping game wo, 3-2. Guilford’s offense struggled to get going in those games, only getting a combined 12 hits.

“The ODAC’s the ODAC. Every team can beat everybody,” Shores said. “I don’t think there’s any team we can’t beat, and I think they look at it the same way.”

The ODAC is a tough conference with three teams ranked in the top-25. Back-to-back national champions Virginia Wesleyan University sits ranked in first with a 15-0 record, the University of Lynchburg holds 15th place with a 15-3 mark and Randolph-Macon College is placed at 24th with a 10-3 record.

“I think we need to take it one game at a time. Looking ahead can only put us out of focus and mess up winning important games that are right now,” said first-year pitcher/outfield Katherine Griswold.

The Quakers will look to fight through the ODAC and get past the second round of the ODAC Tournament.

The Quakers travel to face Eastern Mennonite University on Mar. 24 for a doubleheader. The next home game for Guilford will be on Mar. 30 when it hosts Randolph-Macon for a doubleheader.