Softball: Potomac State sets sights on national tournament

Catamounts, 16-1 in last 17 games, return as Region XX champions

Potomac State Softball

The Potomac State College Catamounts won the Region XX, Division II softball championship last weekend for a spot in the 16-team National Tournament, which begins Wednesday. Members of the team are, front row, left to right: Abbie Doyka, Ruby Fridley, Chelsea Shepherd, Tori Weasonforth, Alyssa Jones, Josie Clark and Danica Rogers. Back row: head coach Jim Walton, Carly Nixon, Ariel Reed, Christina Collins, Beth Cook, Kendall Keplinger, Cheyenne Earle, Morgan Basye and assistant coach Matt Mills. 

By MIKE MATHEWS Cumberland Times-News mmathews@times-news.com

KEYSER, W.Va. — The Potomac State Catamounts believe they are at the right place at the right time.

It’s difficult to argue differently after 16 wins in a 17-game stretch gave Potomac State Head Coach Jim Walton’s team another Region XX championship and a return to the NJCAA Division II Softball National Tournament, which gets under way Wednesday in Clinton, Mississippi.

“We are playing complete softball, and everybody is playing well,” said Walton. “This is the best we’ve played all season, both offensively and defensively. We are hitting all the way through the lineup and making nice defensive plays in the field as well.”

The numbers suggest the Catamounts are peaking at just the right time. They have won seven in a row, 16 of 17, and whipped Chesapeake 12-0 in the Region XX championship game to move their record to 32-7.

The tournament seedings and first-round pairings will be released Monday.

A year ago, the Catamounts lost to the top-ranked team in the nation, Phoenix College of Arizona, and were no-hit by Labette Community College of Kansas. Walton feels his team will be more relaxed this time around.

“We have 10 sophomores who were there last year, and we’ll be more comfortable this time. Last year, we didn’t know what to expect and we were playing the No. 1 team in the country in our first game. We know a little more of what to expect and the girls are confident in themselves and in each other, and are prepared.”

Potomac State beat Frederick 3-1 and No. 17 Chesapeake 3-2 in 8 innings before shutting out Southern Maryland to repeat as region champs last weekend.

Beth Cook, a sophomore from Moorefield, leads the team in hitting and is 11th in the nation with a .530 batting average. She is also 13-2 with a save as a pitcher and 27th in the nation with a 1.88 earned run average.

Danica Rogers, also a sophomore from Moorefield, is 14-2 with a 2.96 ERA and 25th in the nation in strikeouts with 135 in 106 1/3 innings, an average of 8.9 per game.

The Catamounts are among the nation’s top hitting teams in several categories, ranking 24th in batting average (.369), 18th in home runs (42), 14th in slugging percentage (.567) and 18th in on-base percentage (.443).

“We’ve been pretty solid all year and this is a team that just picks each other up,’’ said Walton. “One thing that is different this year is we hit throughout the order. When the top of the lineup doesn’t produce, the middle or the bottom of the order does. We have nine girls who have hit home runs, and we have hit 42 home runs as a team.”

Twelve Catamounts are hitting .300 or better, led by Cook (.530, 70 hits, 18 doubles, 7 home runs, 48 RBIs). The others are Kendall Keplinger (.417, 9 home runs, 50 RBIs), Abbie Doyka (.391, 9 doubles), Christina Collins (.389, 9 doubles, 4 home runs, 31 RBIs), Chelsea Shepherd (.371, 12 doubles), Morgan Basye (.350), Carly Nixon (.341, 10 doubles, 10 home runs, 32 RBIs), Cheyenne Earle (.337, 7 doubles), Tori Weasonforth (.333), Ruby Fridley (.310, 9 doubles), Danica Rogers (.308) and Josie Clark (.303, 5 home runs).

There is little room for error at the national tournament, which features 16 of the nation’s top teams. This year’s field includes seven that were ranked in the final Top 10 poll, including No. 1 LSU-Eunice (53-7), No. 2 Phoenix (53-6-1), No. 4 Kirkwood, Iowa (56-4), and No. 9 defending champion Kankakee, Illinois (49-8).

“You can’t give a team more than three outs an inning,” Walton said. “You can’t make your pitcher work by committing errors and seeing the top of the lineup more. And you have to hit. There is going to be good pitching, and you can’t be intimidated by it.

“I think jumping on top is key. You want to get some hits early, and I think the first inning is very important. The first inning can set the tone for the rest of the game.”