LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN -- The Covenant softball team got off to a fast start on the season, raising hopes that this team would exceed expectations. While the Lady Scots cooled off in the second half, they were able to take incremental steps in their development on the season.
Covenant started the year with a 5-1 record, the best six-game start to a season in program history, before finishing 11-21. Eight of the Lady Scots' 32 games came against teams that earned spots in the NCAA Tournament (Averett, Emory, Berry, LaGrange). In addition, there were seven games which the Lady Scots lost by three runs or less.
"We started out of the gate strong and I was proud of our level of play," seventh-year head coach Sara Russell said. "We had a tough patch in the middle, but finished the season playing well."
Complicating matters for much of the season was the weather. Covenant saw six doubleheaders get wiped out with just two (Agnes Scott and Greensboro) able to be rescheduled. "We had a lot of obstacles this season from weather to injuries, I am proud of all that we fought through," Russell said.
GAME OF THE YEAR: Covenant 12, Berry 6 (Feb. 14)
In the first game of the new season, Covenant took on Berry at home on February 14. The Lady Scots were breaking in new starters at five positions (all freshmen) in shortstop Kasey Hart, catcher Shannon Schmitt, second baseman Jami Johnson, designated player Joni Johnson and pitcher Cris Gant. The Vikings were coming off a 31-11 season and ended the regular season 32-6 with a conference championship and a berth into the NCAA Tournament.
Despite all the new faces, Covenant showed no signs of inexperience and scored six runs in the opening inning and another four in the third to take a 10-1 lead. With single runs in the fifth and sixth inning, the Lady Scots put away Berry 12-6 for win No. 1 on the year.
Gant pitched five innings, giving up just four hits and three earned runs with nine strikeouts. Joni Johnson came on in relief and gave up one run in two innings. The newcomers to the lineup combined for three hits, including one double, three runs scored, four walks and four RBIs.
Besides the freshmen, Madison Quirk had three hits, three runs scored and an RBI while Morgan Lane had a double among her three hits while driving in two. Jordan Brett extended her hitting streak that started in 2014 to 13 games.
Covenant had several players make key contributions to the team during the year. Most significantly was the impact that Brett had on the offense. Brett led the team in most offensive categories and hit .438 (eighth in the USA South) with four home runs and 33 RBIs (seventh in conference). She also finished sixth in the conference with 13 doubles. Her batting average set a program record for a season, topping Beth Harris' .434 mark in 2012. Brett earned All-USA South second team honors for a second consecutive year.
Close behind Brett in terms of offensive production was Lane. The junior batted .396 with four home runs, 24 RBIs and 11 doubles. During the year, Lane put together a 17-game hitting streak, setting a new program record. Lane hit three home runs and had eight RBIs in a doubleheader sweep at Agnes Scott early in the year and that earned her both USA South Player of the Week and NFCA Hitter of the Week accolades.
Quirk also had a solid year offensively for the Lady Scots, hitting .315. It was the third straight season hitting above .300 for the junior. Quirk also hit eight doubles with a triple and one home run while driving in 17. Her one homer was a grand slam against Maryville on March 18.
At catcher, Schmitt took over primary catching duties and impressed as she threw out 10 runners attempting to steal on the season (second-most in the USA South). She also was consistent on the offensive end, hitting .296 with five doubles. Schmitt produced a walk-off single against Wesleyan on March 24 as Covenant won 11-10.
The two Johnson twins also had significant roles as freshmen. Joni hit .309 with a .404 on-base percentage. She also pitched 58 innings, finishing with a team-low 3.74 ERA and tied for first in the USA South with two saves. Jami hit .288 with six doubles and 13 RBIs. Her on-base percentage of .443 was third on the team. The Johnsons were first and second on the team in walks and combined for 28.
Another pair of twins, Shade Epes and Tyler Epes, were battery mates for many of Tyler's 12 starts in the circle for the Lady Scots. Shade hit .273 with a .360 on-base percentage, while Tyler led the team in innings pitched with 59.1.
Hart hit at the top of the order for much of the season and finished third on the team with 19 runs scored, while pacing the club with three stolen bases. She finished the season with a bang by hitting a pair of home runs in Covenant's season-ending doubleheader sweep against Mary Baldwin on April 11.
Kendall Whann started 31 games and had four outfield assists to lead the team. Kaitlyn Sirmons was also a valuable part of the team, appearing at shortstop, second base, left field, and right field and making only one error in 26 games. Sirmons was named to the USA South All-Sportsmanship team.
A couple of other freshmen in Amanda English and Jacey Massetto each started more than 10 games. English hit .412 and Massetto had eight runs scored and two stolen bases. Junior Nicole White and freshmen Kat Andrews and Tatum Watford saw action in the field as well.
In the circle, Gant struck out 77 in 58 innings. Her strikeouts per seven innings of 9.29 easily led the conference and set a season program record.
Junior Hannah Rogers and senior Cori Hilt also saw action at pitcher for the Lady Scots, each starting two games. Hilt finishes her career with 73 appearances, 34 complete-games and 313.2 innings pitched.
IN THE RANKS (NCAA rankings are through May 10):
- 9.29: Cris Gant's strikeouts per seven innings average, which was first in the USA South and is 11th nationally.
- 2.06: Doubles per game as a team, which ranked Covenant second in the conference and 15th in Division III.
Check out some of the highlights from Covenant's contests with Wesleyan, Methodist and North Carolina Wesleyan from March 24-28.
USA South All-Conference
Jordan Brett - 2nd team
USA South All-Sportsmanship
USA South Player of the Week
Morgan Lane - March 2
USA South Rookie Pitcher of the Week
Joni Johnson - March 2
NFCA Hitter of the Week (Division III)
Morgan Lane - March 4