Hungry, confident Kent State softball team heads to UGA Softball Classic

Tyler Kieslich

On the wings of two victories last weekend at the James Madison University Invitational, a confident Kent State softball team will head south this Friday for a number of games against top competition in the UGA Softball Classic.

“I think we’re going into this weekend with a lot of confidence,” said Kent State Head Coach Karen Linder, “based on how we played against Kentucky, how we played against Michigan, how we played against Penn State, James Madison — teams that [on paper] are supposed to be better programs than we are. We are going out there and competing.”

The 8-4 Flashes experienced an offensive explosion last weekend in Virginia. Five different players contributed to a six-homer performance during the double-header against James Madison and Penn State.

Freshman Maddy Grimm was named MAC East Player of the Week for her performance, in which she totaled two homers and five runs batted in.

Grimm has been the offensive catalyst for the Flashes thus far this season, leading the team in runs batted in and total bases.

“The kid is a competitor,” said Linder. “She was the field goal kicker on her high school football team, she played soccer, she played basketball and she played softball. In every one of those sports she was a key, clutch performer. She’s a kid who has performed very well when opportunity knocks. She thrives in being in those types of situations.”

Pitcher Lauren McNeil was also recognized by the conference, picking up a MAC East Pitcher of the Week award.

Against Penn State, McNeil threw five innings of one-run ball and allowed only a single walk all afternoon.

The first inning didn’t go so well, but after that I settled in and relaxed and I started hitting my pitches,” said McNeil. “It was just getting past that first inning and being able to relax.”

The emergence of McNeil as a pitcher the Flashes can count on will be key in their success this weekend and beyond.

“Laura is having her best year yet as a pitcher,” said Linder. “We can count on her against really good teams.”

In the build-up to this weekend’s games in Georgia, the Flashes have been preparing for the quick feet of Purdue and Georgia, two teams that like to work the base paths.

“From a defensive perspective, we have to be ready for Georgia and Purdue,” said Linder. “Those two teams like to run a lot. [In practice] we really focused a lot on what we’re going to see from a defensive standpoint.”

Purdue lead-off hitter, senior Andie Varsho, has already nabbed 10 bases in just 12 attempts, leading her team.

“Whenever you have that type of player at the top of a lineup, that is a threat to steal at any point in time,” said Linder. “I think that it becomes a key to try to keep them off the base.”

Linder said the biggest challenge of the weekend will be posed by No.19 Georgia. The Bulldogs have won 16 of their 18 games thus far this season, including 13 of 14 at home.

Georgia has a pitching staff anchored by sophomores Geri Ann Glasco and Chelsea Wilkinson, who have combined for a 1.14 ERA and between them have been averaging over two strikeouts for every inning they pitch. The Bulldogs also have a number of bats in the lineup who pose threats to the Flashes’ pitchers, including Glasco, who leads the team in runs batted in with 18.  

“They are an extremely explosive offensive team,” said Linder. “It will be a challenge for our pitchers and our defense.”

Even in the face of such stiff competition, the Flashes aren’t intimidated. This season they have already claimed the scalp of a ranked Kentucky team and it took extra innings for No.5 Michigan to put them away.

“The energy of the team and the confidence of the team has been a huge positive for us, especially with the tough schedule that we’re playing,” said Linder. “Going into the season, I knew we were going to be playing one of the toughest schedules in the history of the program, and if you look at the number of top-20 teams that we’re playing, it’s phenomenal. I think we’ve done a good job of meeting that challenge.”

It will be a packed schedule for the Flashes this weekend. They have two games on Friday, with one against Purdue and one against Georgia. Then they play Georgia again Saturday afternoon, with an evening game against Tennessee Tech. The Classic will wrap on Sunday, with a morning rematch against Tennessee Tech. Regardless, the Flashes are ready to take on the challenge.

“I think everyone’s really excited for the opportunity,” said McNeil. “We get to play some more big schools and we can show what we can do against some of these big teams. We’re expecting to win these games and beat some of these good teams.”

Contact Tyler Kieslich at [email protected].