Before its season was cut short due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the NC State softball team was off to its best start in program history and fielded perhaps its best team ever. Here’s how the team lived up to preseason expectations.
Did the newcomers fit in?
Going into the season, the Wolfpack was going to need solid contributions from its 10 combined transfers and freshmen. What they got out of the new contributors went beyond even the most optimistic expectations.
Senior outfielder Tatyana Forbes, a transfer from Florida International, burst onto the scene as one of the best players in the country, leading NC State with a .538 batting average, .593 on-base percentage and 1.231 OPS, while nabbing 14 of 16 stolen bases. Coastal Carolina transfer Sam Sack provided an offensive presence behind the dish that the Wolfpack had been lacking for years, mashing six home runs to the tune of a .684 slugging percentage.
Roaming the infield, junior UNCW transfer Carson Shaner bought fully into head coach Jennifer Patrick-Swift’s “home-run mindset,” crushing a home run for her first four hits, as she raked her way to five dingers and a .650 slugging percentage. In the circle, freshman right-hander Sam Gress gave NC State a consistent third arm it desperately needed. She was just hitting her stride as play was stopped, and Gress pitched to the tune of a 1.27 ERA.
Could the pitching hold up?
Last year, NC State rode the arms of Devin Wallace and Sydney Nester the entire season, producing some up-and-down results. This year, the senior Wallace and sophomore Nester stuck to the good results, combining for a 3.11 ERA and 140 strikeouts in 139.1 innings pitched. The number two behind Wallace last year, Nester took over the heavy share of the workload this year, tossing 33.1 more innings than Wallace, as she held opposing hitters to a miniscule .201 batting average.
With the addition of Gress to the circle, Patrick-Swift was able to manage the workload of Wallace and Nester, a luxury that wasn’t available last year. Gress appeared in nine games and threw 27.2 innings, while emerging as more than just a spot starter or long reliever to finish out a blowout.
What would year two of the home-run mindset look like?
Last year in her first season at the helm, Patrick-Swift’s squad mashed 63 taters, a 27-dinger improvement over an abysmal 2018 season. It was fair to question whether that huge improvement was a fluke. In 25 games this year, NC State more than proved that the home runs are here to stay, crushing 38 long balls, sixth-most in the NCAA.
Led again by senior outfielder Brigette Nordberg’s seven long balls, 10 different players had already hit a home run by season’s end. Sack and senior outfielder Angie Rizzi both hit six, while Shaner (5), junior infielder Logan Morris (4) and redshirt junior infielder Randi Farricker (3) all hit at least a trio of long balls.
The Wolfpack was on pace for 88 home runs by season’s end, which would have tied the program record. The team batted .319 in the shortened season, crushing the previous season record of .275 in 2014 by nearly 45 points. Patrick-Swift’s home-run mindset also led to a program-record .544 slugging percentage, the only time in NC State softball history the team has had a slugging percentage over .500.
Will a hot start carry over into the second half of the season?
This was a huge question before the season started, and unfortunately it won’t be answered. In 2019, a 16-8 start to the season led way to a 13-18 finish to the regular season. This year’s team certainly felt different, and it was in the midst of a six-game winning streak and 14-2 stretch before play was halted. Ultimately the season was cut short before ACC play was even reached, but at the same point in the season last year, the team was 16-9. This year? 19-6.