Lee Softball Celebrates Seniors, Looks to Next Year
Tuesday, April 7, 2020
Seniors Brooklynn Frazier and Abby McKinney share a laugh during a game earlier this season.
The Lee softball team had visions of recreating a magical 2017 run to the NCAA Super Regional in 2020 with a stacked senior class finally healthy and key additions to the pitching staff making a huge impact early on.
Those dreams were cut short as the Lady Flames prepared to host GSC rival West Florida in a three-game series at Butler Field on Mar. 13-14.
Seniors Abby McKinney, Kayla Louie, Brooklynn Frazier, Bailey Church and Zoe Miller had been a huge part of the 2017 postseason run and were ready to make their senior seasons count.
Junior-transfer Lulu Vazquez, senior Gracie Leslie and junior Shonna Penney had stabilized the pitching staff as the Lady Flames were 13-10 and 4-5 in the rugged GSC when the season was halted.
Veteran head coach Emily Russell had the difficult task of addressing her team when the decision was finally made to cancel the season, "It was definitely very challenging. We let go of the season in stages and so it felt a little bit less emotional when it was finally cancelled for good," noted Russell. "We already knew one senior had set plans for the fall but the others had an opportunity to possibly return if the NCAA gave that as an option. We had a team zoom call to have a face to face with everyone. We have had a meeting each week with each other to keep them connected. We spoke with the seniors individually to work them through their situation face to face if possible and via technology if they were already away from campus."
Louie, the all-time stolen base leader in program history, had already swiped 20 bases while hitting a team-leading .378. Sophomore Taylor De Adder was a on a tear with a .367 average, .959 OPS and 22 RBI. Frazier slugged four homers while juniors Lily Hatcher (.333, 19 SB) and Kayla Gooch (.327) were also swinging hot bats.
"Obviously we are disappointed in how our season ended as we prepared long and hard all off-season to be able to compete this season," said De Adder. "It has been hard to come to terms with the fact that we will not get to play with this group of girls again as some seniors will not be returning. I genuinely believe that we could have had a very successful season with this group, and I am sad that it had to end this way for some. As we are finishing up the semester, I am just trying to stay focused on my academics and finding things to keep busy."
Vazquez settled in quickly as the team's ace in the circle. The Norwalk, Calif. native was 6-6 with a 2.10 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 70 innings of work. Leslie followed with a 2.42 ERA while Penney put together a 6-2 mark while sporting a 2.85 ERA. As a team the Lady Flames improved rotation posted a 2.85 ERA.
"Three of the six (seniors) are going to return. Abby, Kayla, and Gracie will all be back for their additional year of eligibility. We are excited for all these young ladies they made the best decision for them and we understand," said Russell.
This year's senior class has been through many highs and persevered through tough times throughout the last four years. "This group has been important to this program. They have been through some of the best times of the NCAA era in going to a Super Regional in their freshman year and obviously this year being cut short was a low. They are a strong group of young women. I know they will impact those around them throughout their lives," remarked Russell.
After the season was cut short the next challenge for Russell and her staff was to connect with their players despite being separated. "We are doing a weekly zoom session as a team. I check in and have an individual meeting with each player once a week and Coach Yo (Natalie Yonan) is going to start weekly meetings with each of their classes to help them transition into the Team 35. I think engaging them individually and as a team helps to encourage them and remind them that they are not alone and that they have the same resources that they had at Lee to be successful for the year. We are just keeping it light in content and there is no agenda, just seeing them and talking with them," said Russell.
With this season complete the attention quickly turns to next season as coach Russell is anxious to get her players back on campus, "I am looking forward to this team being together. What an opportunity to have the class you have been preparing to replace along with the ones you have brought in to replace them all together. I also think that they will have a renewed sense of purpose and enjoyment for the game. I think everyone will have a new perspective on things," Russell said.
De Adder was on pace for another successful season in her sophomore campaign. The Maple Ridge, British Columbia native isn't wasting time however as she is ready to put in the work to make next year a memorable year in more ways than one.
"I have been taking advantage of this athletic suspension by putting in work for next season. I have been hitting, pitching and doing workouts at the field almost every day. It is unfortunate that we will not be able to finish this season but for most of us, we get to come back next season; I have no doubt that we are all putting in the work and that we are going to come back stronger and ready to make a statement next season," said De Adder.
Opening Day is always a special time each spring. It marks the changing from a cold, harsh winter to the new life, vibrant colors and warmth of springtime. It will especially be sweet for the Lady Flames as they get back to playing the game they love, a game that was taken away from them during this unprecedented crisis.
We hope that sooner than later we hear the words, "play ball" again.