"The best thing about endings is knowing that just ahead is the daunting task to start over."
- Jodi Picoult, Keeping Faith
What a season! The 2014 Hittin' Kittens clawed their names deeply into the archives of Kentucky sports lore this year, with a record 50 wins (best in school history), a 12 win streak at the start of the season (best and longest in school history), wins over powerhouse programs like Oklahoma and UCLA, a first ever appearance at the SEC Championship Game and our very first appearance in the Women's College World Series.
I'd like to start by thanking our seniors, who capped off their final season in magnificent style:
To Lauren Cumbess, our fearless leader, thank you for being everything a senior should be: a general on the field, and a star off of it. I've no idea what an Integrated Strategic Communication major does, but know wherever you go in the world next, you'll make huge mark.
To Ginny Carroll, thank you for making your mark on our team and in our community. I know you've made your father Chris very proud, and I'm really going to miss watching you glare down opposing pitchers.
To Krystal Smith, thank you for making people who focused on your ERA and not your skills look foolish. Your last game for UK was a beauty. I'll miss yelling "DON'T SLEEP ON KRYSTAL SMITH!" (my cat, however, will not.)
To Emily Gaines, I have never seen a player battle their way back into a lineup with such determination. To go from a .155 to a .297 in a year is simply amazeballs. Thank you for showing young athletes everywhere that you should never, ever, ever, ever give up on your dreams.
To Emily Jolly, that tiny bundle of determination from Owensboro, thank you for proving amazing things can come in small packages. Your work on and off the field is commended.
To Sarah Frazer, who saw most of her action in 29 games this season as a pinch runner, thank you for helping your club make it to such terrific heights.
Coach Lawson will no doubt spend much of the off-season reflecting on this year, particularly the highs and lows. Looking ahead to next season I hope we focus on the following:
- Developing a broader pitching staff. We have 2 freshman hurlers in Meagan Prince and Shannon Smith who could really become valuable assets for this club. As the pitching coach, this tasks lies with Coach Lawson and I'm sure she'll make the most of the off-season to ensure we're not shorthanded again in 2015.
- Offensive efficiency. We didn't LOOK like the worst batting club in the WCWS field, but we were. If we want to make it in the SEC, this is an area we've got to improve, and losing our 2 best hitters in Cumbess and Gaines isn't helping matters.
- Leadership on the field. I've raved all season about Lauren Cumbess, and with good reason. Who will step up next year? I'm looking at a partnership between SS Christian Stokes and Catcher Griffin Joiner as key, but wouldn't be shocked to see other sophomores (now juniors) step up.
As bitter as that final loss was last night, you know it will be a major driver for this squad next year. They've worked their way into the highest echelon of the softball elite, and will be looking to return to OKC. I anticipate the 2015 season as another banner year for the Hittin' Kittens, and truly cannot wait for that next crack of the bat.
To everyone who joined us in the gamethreads this year, a sincere thank you. You are a large part of what made this season so fun. And with the SECN up and running, we'll have a chance to watch even more games on TV! Softball is here to stay folks, and it's a wonderful and amazing feeling.
Until next season - GO BIG BLUE!