A Look Back at the 2009 Softball Season
June 29, 2009
A surprising run to the 2007 NCAA Super Regionals was followed by a disappointing showing in 2008, with South Carolina falling short of its goal of postseason play. With seven seniors gone from the previous year and 10 newcomers looking to fill those roles, the Gamecocks looked to get itself back into the mix of postseason consideration. While not attaining those goals, the South Carolina softball team gained valuable experience that should help them in the years to come.
The start to 2009 came against in-state foe College of Charleston, and the newcomers quickly made their presence felt. Freshman Audrey Broyles had an amazing debut at Beckham Field, striking out 14 Cougars while allowing just one run, and that in the seventh inning, in a 7-1 win. The Pembroke Pines, Fla., product also contributed at the plate, adding two RBI in the victory. In game two of the season-opening doubleheader, rookie Evan Childs showed her power, hitting two home runs to help the squad capture a 6-4 win. But the Cougars bounced back on Sunday to take a 2-1 win at Patriots Point.
The next weekend saw the Gamecocks open the UCF Early Bird against nationally-ranked Kansas. A back-and-forth game saw South Carolina capture a win in the ninth inning when freshman pinch runner Kaitlin Westfall scampered home after an error by the Jayhawk leftfielder. That helped spur the Gamecocks to sweeping through their time in Orlando, including back-to-back shutouts to end the weekend over Bowling Green and Texas-Arlington.
A rainout in the midweek sent South Carolina straight into the Gamecock Invitational. The squad beat North Florida for the second-consecutive weekend by a run to start the tourney. On Saturday, the Gamecocks faced Eastern Illinois, who pushed the hosts to the test. In the fourth extra frame, South Carolina broke through with three runs to break the 1-1 tie and help the squad get a 4-2 victory. The winning streak stretched twice more in the home tourney with victories over Chattanooga and Troy.
That skein moved to 10 games after game one of the NFCA Leadoff Classic when South Carolina downed defending Conference USA champ Houston after sophomore Jill Semento's two-RBI single. The streak was snapped by Illinois State, as the Redbirds jumped out and took a 7-0 win. The weather kept the Gamecocks from getting back on the field for over a week, as games against Penn State, Nebraska and Northwestern were all washed out over the rest of the weekend in Columbus, Ga.
The final tune-up game for SEC play was also called due to weather, as this time ice in Chapel Hill prevented the once-annual battle between North Carolina and South Carolina. After eight days away from competition, the Gamecocks had to start SEC play against the toughest team in the league, eventual national finalist Florida. The Gamecocks hung with the Gators in game one, going to extra innings after Semento smacked a two-run homer to tie the game in the fifth. The Gators came back with two in the eighth to take that game and proceeded to sweep the Gamecocks.
The next week brought more weather woes, as South Carolina played a midweek series at Arkansas in sub-40 degree weather. The bats never got warm, as the Razorbacks held the Gamecocks to seven hits in the doubleheader sweep. Next came a trip to Knoxville, where the Lady Vols and Gamecocks dodged rain all weekend. One game was wiped away, and the final game of the set barely started before the conference's curfew. On the field, though, Tennessee had its way, taking two seven-run wins to run the Gamecock losing streak to eight games.
The squad ended that with an 11-inning triumph over Mississippi in the first game of that midweek doubleheader. Childs came through with a walk-off single in the final frame. The Rebels came back to take a split with a 12-8 win in the nightcap. Georgia came to Columbia next, and the Bulldogs allowed just one run in a three-game sweep. The losing streak moved to six after Auburn took the first two games on the Plains, including a mercy-rule win in game two of the set, but the Gamecocks bounced back to get a win in the series finale thanks in part to Westfall's pinch-hit, bases-loaded triple.
An off-weekend from SEC play allowed South Carolina to play a couple of non-conference games, but the first did not go well. Charlotte got a 2-0 win on its home field on April Fools Day, as the Gamecocks got three doubles but no runs in the Queen City. The squad bounced back the next Tuesday to get its first run-rule win of the season, a 10-2 victory over Coastal Carolina.
Next came the eventual SEC Western Division Champion, Alabama, ranked fourth in the country entering the weekend. The Gamecocks pulled out a stunner in the first game when sophomore Laura Mendes hit a walk-off single in the eighth to hand South Carolina a 3-2 win, snapping a 14-game losing streak in the series. Lightning interrupted the second game, but it didn't stop Alabama from taking a 7-0 victory. In the final game, designated as the Strike Out Cancer fundraiser, the Garnet and Black came away with a 6-5 win, as freshman Kristen Stubblefield came through with a sixth-inning, two-run double to put the squad on top for good. The series victory, the first of the season for the Gamecocks and first since 2001 over Alabama, gave the Gamecocks new life as far as a SEC Tournament berth.
Hopes were dashed a bit, however, as the Gamecocks lost two out of three at Mississippi State. The highlight was the middle game of the series, where three Gamecock pitchers combined for the 2-0 shutout. South Carolina got its fourth extra-inning win of the season in its final non-conference game of 2009 with a 6-2 victory over Coastal. Semento drove in the game-winning runs with her ninth-inning, two-RBI single. With that behind them, the Gamecocks looked to use that momentum as they headed to the bayou to face LSU. But the Tigers were ready, shutting out the Gamecocks in a three-game series and nearly dashing the SEC Tournament hopes of the squad.
With the chance to play in the postseason hanging by a thread, South Carolina returned home to face a revived Kentucky team. The Wildcats ended all hopes of play past the weekend with a 4-3 win in 10 innings in the first game of the set. The Big Blue swept Saturday's doubleheader with a 5-1 win in game two. On Senior Day, however, the Gamecocks came through with a big 9-2 win to close out the season, sending Cagney Davis, Ashton Payne and Jacqueline Wetherbee out on a high note.
Payne led the Gamecocks in postseason awards, taking her second-consecutive Academic All-America nod despite missing most of the last half of the season due to a knee injury. Semento earned Louisville Slugger/NFCA All-Southeast Region accolades, while junior Adele Voigt shared the leftfielder's spot on the SEC All-Defensive Team.
With the 2009 season in the books and only three seniors who accounted for just 13 percent of the team's starts, the future could be bright for Gamecock softball.