OC softball in transitional year, but success still expected

Lindsy Moore is one of three returning pitchers on OC's softball team this season.
Lindsy Moore is one of three returning pitchers on OC's softball team this season.

OKLAHOMA CITY (Feb. 8, 2013) – It’s a transitional season for Oklahoma Christian softball in more ways than one in 2013.

OC is entering a new conference, which by itself is a major change. Add in the fact that the Lady Eagles will not play any games on campus this season, as their soon-to-be home, Tom Heath Field at Lawson Plaza, is being built. OC softball’s temporary home will be the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium Complex in northeast Oklahoma City.

The Lady Eagles also lost their No. 1 pitcher, Ashley Paxton (who left the program during the off-season) and there are only 14 players on the roster. A lot will be new for OC this season, but one thing will not be – OC head coach Tom Heath and his staff expect the Lady Eagles to compete.

“We are looking at this year as being a very good year for us,” Heath said. “We’re going to compete this year. If we stay healthy, we will compete very well.”

OC’s strength, at least early in the season, figures to be its hitting. Five returning players hit higher than .300 last season – Kendra Pierce (.383, 49 RBIs, seven home runs), Courtney Starr (.352, 24 RBIs, two home runs), Kala Ratliff (.346, 30 RBIs, one home run), Monique Elliott (.313, 16 RBIs) and Sarah Peoples (.308, 19 RBIs, three home runs).

The Lady Eagles’ newcomers also have impressive hitting credentials. Martha Miller, a transfer from Western Oklahoma State, hit .437 with 24 doubles, 19 home runs and 69 RBIs last season at the juco level. Another juco transfer, Lauren Pittman, hit .340 with 13 doubles, seven home runs and 29 RBIs last season at Connors State.

A third transfer, Lauren Chatigny – who sat out last season after starting for two years at Northwest Missouri State – will play in right field after hitting .265 during two seasons at the NCAA Division II school.

The Lady Eagles outhit their opponents last season .319 to .254 and with most of the players who made that possible back, Heath thinks the offense can carry the team a long ways.

“Our hitting will be awesome this year,” Heath said. “We’re going to score runs. All up and down our lineup, one through nine, all of them can hit. All of them can score. We’ve got some who are lefties who are quick. We’ve got some power hitters, RBI-type hitters. We’re solid offensively.”

But, as pitching coach Steve Gault puts it, “It’s called fast-pitch for a reason. It starts in the circle.” Gault believes that the Lady Eagles’ staff – returnees Lindsy Moore, Taylor Mosher and Krystal Rodriguez and freshman Danielle Collins – will be better than outsiders think.

The left-handed Moore (10-2, 4.10 ERA) and the right-handed Mosher (5-1, 2.71 ERA) showed flashes of promise last season and will start 2013 as the Lady Eagles’ co-No. 1 pitchers, with Rodriguez (1-0, 6.18 ERA) not far behind them. Collins will be used mostly in spot duty.

“The pitchers have improved greatly,” Gault said. “We competed well in the fall and they have improved since then. I think they’re going to surprise people. … On any given day, one of them looks better than the others. That’s a good thing. All three of them aren’t going to have a bad day at the same time.”

In most games, Heath said, the Lady Eagles are likely to rely on a pitching-by-committee approach.

“We are planning on using everybody,” Heath said. “We’re not going to use just rely on one pitcher to throw a whole game this year. We’re going to use a couple of pitchers a game.”

There will be several players changing defensive positions this season. Pierce, a sophomore, will move from first base to her natural position, shortstop, filling the vacancy left by the graduated Davee Croy.

Elliott, who was primarily in right field last season, will play at second base, while last year’s second baseman, Courtney Starr, will move behind the plate and split catching duties with Miller. Whichever one isn’t catching likely will be the designated player.

Pittman will play at first base, with the irrepressible Ratliff holding down the starting job at third base.

“This may be as good a defensive infield, overall, as we’ve ever had,” Gault said. “We’re solid.”

Michelle Miller (.283, 24 RBIs, two home runs) returns in left field, as does Peoples in center field. Chatigny will play right field. As a bonus, Chatigny is a left-handed hitter.

The majority of the Lady Eagles’ games will be on the road this season, partly necessitated by the ongoing stadium construction project. OC will open Saturday at Southwestern Christian and play its first 21 games away from home. The Lady Eagles’ home opener won’t be until March 5, against Dallas (Texas).

OC will play a full Heartland Conference schedule this season, which means new foes like St. Mary’s (Texas), St. Edward’s (Texas), Oklahoma Panhandle State, Newman (Kan.), Texas-Permian Basin and Texas A&M International. Each Heartland Conference series is three games, not four as in OC’s previous league, the Sooner Athletic Conference.

“The new conference is a huge thing and I think we’ll realize it more at the end of the year, after we do all the travel,” Heath said. “I think everybody is excited to play new teams and travel to new cities. That’s a huge change for us.”