The NC State softball team is off to a good start in its 2020 season already, with a ranked win under its belt. The new-look Wolfpack has 10 new players this season, a healthy mix of transfers and freshmen, in addition to returning most of its production from a 2019 season in which it advanced to the ACC Championships semifinals. Here is how the Wolfpack shapes out by position group.
Behind the dish for NC State is junior transfer Sam Sack. A 5-foot-9 left-handed hitter from Coastal Carolina, Sack went 3 for 9 and drew two walks in the Pack’s first weekend tournament of the season. Not just a strong hitter at the plate, Sack is also solid behind the plate, throwing out one of two potential base stealers.
Backing Sack up behind the plate is junior Madeline Curtis, who saw time in 25 games last year, starting 10. Curtis struggled immensely at the plate, batting just .091 with only two extra-base hits. She’ll likely fill in for Sack only when absolutely necessary.
Manning the hot corner for NC State again this year is junior Logan Morris. One of the Wolfpack’s breakout players last season, Morris was second on the team in home runs and slugging percentage and third on the team in batting average, OPS and total bases. Morris struggled last weekend, batting just .188, but with her place in the middle of the order cemented, she’ll bust out of the funk in no time.
Opposite Morris on the diamond at first base is senior Skylar Johnston. Never afraid to take a mean hack, Johnston finished fourth on the team in batting average last season and slugged five home runs and 10 doubles. She also has a keen eye at the plate, as she drew 20 walks and racked up a .348 on-base percentage in 2019. However, fielding is an issue for Johnston, as she committed eight errors last season, third most on the team.
After switching positions over the offseason and filling in the hole left by the graduated Natalie Jones, redshirt junior Randi Farricker is NC State’s starting second baseman this year. A powerful but streaky hitter last season, Farricker started 33 games while splitting time at first base. Although she mashed five home runs and 13 extra-base hits, the 6-foot Farricker struggled with consistency, batting just .242 and striking out 31 times. She might have solved some of her issues over the offseason, however, as she went 4 for 12 with a double down in Florida last weekend.
Next to Farricker up the middle is sophomore April Visser, who finished last season on a monster hot streak that included back-to-back walk-off hits in the Pack’s final series of the season. The Utah native slugged eight home runs last season and already has one under her belt this year. After being slotted eighth or ninth in the lineup most of last season, head coach Jennifer Patrick-Swift expects Visser to shine in the middle of the order this year.
The Wolfpack boasts one of the best outfields not just in the ACC, but in the entire NCAA. Headlined by junior Sam Russ and seniors Tatyana Forbes and Angie Rizzi, NC State’s outfield can hit for power and average, is elite in the field, and is lightning fast on the base paths.
In right field is Florida International transfer Tatyana Forbes, a Mexican national team player and elite hitter. Forbes batted .315 last season at FIU and is off to an electric start already this season, hitting .417 with a 1.059 OPS last weekend en route to NFCA Leadoff Classic All-Tournament honors. Forbes bats second and will be a huge addition to the Pack’s lineup.
To Forbes’ right in center field is the veteran Rizzi, who started 109 games her sophomore and junior seasons, and is back in the starting lineup again this year. After a down season last year that saw her hit just .162, Rizzi picked up three hits last weekend and stole second on her only stolen base attempt of the season. One of the best defensive center fielders in the ACC, anything hit in the air up the middle is likely an out.
Last but not least in the star-studded outfield is superstar leadoff hitter Sam Russ, who paced the team last year with a .326 batting average, 32 stolen bases, 56 hits and five triples as she earned Second Team All-ACC and ACC All-Tournament Team honors. Russ picked right up where she left off last season, racking up five hits, a double and scoring three runs over the weekend. The electric base stealer didn’t try to steal any bases last weekend, but it’s only a matter of time before she takes off on the base paths.
NC State will likely trot out its two-headed pitching attack from last season again this year. Senior right-hander Devin Wallace and sophomore righty Sydney Nester combined for over 85% of the Pack’s innings pitched last year and already threw a combined 29.1 of 33 last weekend.
Wallace looks to be the ace once again, and she’s coming off an up-and-down 2019. Although she led the team in strikeouts with 155, she also struggled with her control, walking 32 batters and hitting another 28. Wallace was always able to limit the damage, as she finished with a solid 3.47 ERA and held opposing hitters to a .233 batting average.
Alongside Wallace is Nester, who pitched well as a freshman last season with a 3.37 ERA, 153 strikeouts and a 1.49 WHIP. She also struggled a bit with control, walking and hitting a combined 46 players in 149.2 innings pitched. Nester started 20 games and came in as relief for an additional 17 games and may see an even heavier workload this year.
Both Wallace and Nester struggled last weekend, with a 5.25 and 4.44 ERA, respectively. The duo allowed four home runs on the weekend, but with most of the games being against top-tier competition, their struggles aren’t likely to continue as the season progresses.
The everyday designated player this year will be senior Brigette Nordberg, who was stationed in right field last season, where she hit .291 with 16 home runs and a 1.048 OPS, even earning Player of the Week honors toward the end of nonconference play. Nordberg led the team in OPS, slugging percentage and home runs and is no slouch on the base paths either, nabbing 7 of 8 attempts. Not a bad defensive right fielder, Nordberg will likely fill in in the outfield if Forbes, Rizzi or Russ get a day off.