LeTourneau Sports Information
When Stan Wells looks down his chart, one area stands out.
“For the first in my tenure here, for sure, as an assistant coach or a head coach, I feel like our pitching staff is deeper than it’s ever been,” the LeTourneau University softball coach said. “We’ve got more options. We’ve got seven on the staff, and I think at any point in time, I’m always going be able to trust five of them.”
It’s a commodity every softball team seeks, and the YellowJackets profess to have it this year as the season begins today at Schreiner. You might say it’s a pick-your-pitcher mentality this year.
“We had trouble in the fall in inter-squad hitting them,” said Wells, whose team went 24-17 in 2019. “Their movement, they’re that good. Just the metrics of their spin rotation that I’ve checked so far is just crazy. (We’re) way better in having that many and that depth. A pitcher is always going to have an off day. Just having that many on the staff, I feel like they’re going to pick each other up, and there’s always going to be somebody that’s got their best stuff on any given day.”
Sophomore Bailey Richey headlines the staff. She was a third team All-American Southwest Conference at-large selection a year ago, going 9-3 in the circle with a 3.53 earned run average and 94 strikeouts in 109 innings.
“She kind of drives the train,” Wells said.
Senior Samantha Akers went 9-7 with a 4.42 ERA and a save last year. The addition of sophomore transfer Madelyn Tannery, freshmen Hannah Welch, Ashley DeCock and Sadie Morgan give the Jackets lots of wiggle room.
“If you’ve got a good pitching staff, your defense is going to be better because you’re going to defend lesser sharp hit balls, and get more routine outs,” Wells said. “I don’t think we’re going to have to score as many runs this year because our staff is absolutely that good.”
Last year the YellowJackets won 12 of 13 games in which they produced eight or more runs. The one game they did that and lost was a 9-8 setback to Concordia Texas. LETU scored 10 or more runs five times, while giving up over 10 in three games.
Of course, all this talk about the pitching doesn’t diminish from the YellowJackets ability to put the ball in play. Juniors Katelyn Trombley, Hana Bonner and Ethel Warren all have pop, and could be mainstays in the middle of the lineup. Warren batted .362 with eight doubles, a triple and 26 RBIs as a sophomore. Trombley hit .336 with four home runs, nine doubles, three triples and 23 RBIs. Bonner hit .318 with seven homers and three doubles, and drove in 17. The YellowJackets lost their two most productive run producers, who drove in a combined 82 runs. In other words, Trombley, Bonner and Warren must fill the voids.
“They’re one year stronger with more experience, and I’m going to be leaning on them to take up a lot of those RBIs,” Wells said. “Hana was hurt, and missed half the season last year. With her being healthy is going to be a huge difference in the middle of our lineup.”
Senior infielder Kennedi Dillow is a table setter. She batted .342 with nine doubles and a triple, while driving in 18 runs in 2019. She, along with catcher Maycie Walton, utility player Amber Fillbrandt and Akers offer invaluable senior leadership. All have been through the wars, as Wells puts it. And with this team, as has been the case, games are won through battles. LETU was 6-4 in games decided by one run last season.
“The parts and places in our offense are there to pick up and go like they’re supposed to,” Wells said. “It’s just going to be, ‘Who’s going to be the one who steps up?’”
Seven freshmen will compete for starting roles, while continuing to build on a developing program. It’s a program on the rise that will challenge itself in an out of the conference.
LeTourneau hosts defending NCAA Division III national champion and preseason No. 1 Texas Lutheran on Feb. 15. The Jackets begin ASC play the next week at Sul Ross State, and will compete in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Leadoff Classic in Tucson, Arizona, March 6-8. They conclude the regular season against ASC preseason favorite East Texas Baptist at home April 24-25.
“We’re going to kind of know where we are right off the bat,” Wells said. “We get a couple conference series, and then we go right out and play in the Leadoff Classic for the first time in school history. We get six quality opponents, five of which were in postseason play last year.
“Having that kind of schedule early on, we’re going to grow and learn. Hopefully we can be successful at that point. We want to be competitive in each one of (those games), and I know that with our staff, I’m so excited about how they’re going to pitch. I think they just give us a chance to be in every game. Are we going to be resilient enough to win most of those?”
Last year was the first in Wells’ three as head coach the Jackets put together a winning record. In fact, it was the first time in six years LETU finished above .500. Now the key is sustainability.
“If we set our goals to be productive, knowing it’s going to be challenging early in the season, if we use that adversity as a positive reinforcement, we will build stronger in the future,” Wells said.
“There’s a lot of self-confidence in our team, but they need to know there is a reality check, and they have to earn every opportunity that they get. We’re definitely going to focus on the one-batter-at-a-time, one-inning-at-a-time, one-pitch-at-a-time approach to know that if you don’t do that, it’s not going to be given to you. Nothing is going to be promised to anyone. They have to earn it.”
That’s what the YellowJackets will set out to do as they open up in Kerrville. Belief is one thing, earning it is another. These Jackets think they’re on to both.
“Our overall pulse of our team is they generally love each other, and they have a selfless work ethic in everything they’ve done so far, and I won’t expect that to change,” Wells said. “They are the best team that I’ve had so far in that they hold each other first, and the person standing next to them, accountable for everything that they do. You put together teams like that, they have a chance to be successful.”