By: Sean Neidig, sports information graduate assistant
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Capital University Softball officially began its season last week but with a two-week layoff between games, Capital’s first week of games in Florida effectively functions as “spring training” that counts.
The Crusaders went 3-5 in their eight games in the Sunshine State and nearly completed a nine-run comeback in their final game that would have resulted in a 4-4 record for head coach Nan Payne, now in her 21st season.
Positive signs of improvement are visible all over the diamond. As a team, Capital hit only .291 in 2018. Through this year’s eight games, the Crusaders are hitting .323. Capital’s 2018 on-base percentage was .334. It has risen almost .100 points to .427 this season. The Crusaders have drawn 33 walks already this year after finishing with only 59 all of last year. And while it is a small sample size, Capital is on pace to hit twice as many doubles this year as it did last year. The Crusaders have 20 two-base hits in the eight games this season after hitting 49 in 40 games last year.
Two of the driving forces behind Capital’s improvement have been the development of two sophomores; first baseman Alyx Slusher (Rockford, Ohio/Parkway) and left fielder Erica Ogden (Grove City, Ohio/Bishop Ready). As freshmen, Slusher led the team with 22 RBIs and hit .307 while Ogden hit .235. This season, Slusher leads the team with a .458 average, has hit a home run and has driven in six from the leadoff spot. Ogden has almost doubled her batting average to .444 and has five doubles with six walks. She hit five doubles and had six walks all of last season in 37 games.
“Slush has probably one of the best bats on the team,” said Payne. “She’s intimidating and she’s very intense. You can almost guarantee that she’s going to put the bat on the ball. And she is leading like you wouldn’t believe as well.”
The Crusaders also missed the presence of junior center fielder Morgan Fadel (Broadview Heights, Ohio/Brecksville-Broadview Heights) last year who missed the majority of the season with an injury. Already Fadel has improved Capital’s defense in 2019 with the amount of ground she can cover and she’s hitting .320 with a homer and three doubles for good measure.
“She’s one of our best outfielders, if not our best,” Payne said. “She also, as a freshman, was our leadoff hitter. Having Morgan back in our lineup really solidifies one of those spots.”
After begin named All-Ohio Athletic Conference Honorable Mention last year, junior Cory Mangen (Clayton, Ohio/Northmont) has mashed two home runs already after hitting one last season. She also moved across the diamond to play shortstop, something she has not done in her career, and is error-free to this point.
“I don’t think we’ll skip a beat there,” Payne said of Mangen’s move to short. “Cory is an athlete all around. She’s filled with strength and athletic ability. She’s got a strong arm, she’s fast, she covers a lot of range and she also is one of our top hitters.”
“What I take pride in … is being willing to work hard,” said Mangen. “My role for this season is definitely going to be a leadership role and leading by example.”
The team also has more depth than it had at any point last year and several newcomers have already made impacts. Lefty slapper Mycala Duhart (Sylvania, Ohio/Notre Dame Academy), who missed the entirety of the 2018 season, will be competing for at-bats and freshman Lauren Kachure (Amherst, Ohio/Amherst Steele) has taken over as the team’s starting third baseman. Kachure, who also has the ability to play catcher, has three RBIs and has drawn four walks already.
The team also has three seniors, all of whom will be key contributors. Kristen Mellot (Clear Spring, Md./Clear Spring) leads the team with nine RBIs and is hitting .364. On the mound, ace Brianna Reardon (Fremont, Ohio/St. Joseph Central Catholic) will shoulder most of the pitching load. Reardon has four complete games in six starts and her strikeout numbers have improved by almost one punch out per game through seven total appearances this season. Two-way player Chevonne Hayslett (Miamisburg, Ohio/Miamisburg) is the team’s most vocal leader from the catcher position and she also made three pitching appearances in Florida.
Behind Reardon and Hayslett, the freshman trio of Madrienne Herdlick (Tiffin, Ohio/Columbian), Lexi Anderson (Avon Lake, Ohio/Avon Lake) and Kim Rega (Independence, Ohio/Independence) are all pitchers who got innings in Florida and will be useful weapons on the mound as they mature and adjust to college softball.
As the team moves ahead in the season and into the OAC schedule, Mangen is looking forward to getting some redemption for last season and specifically mentioned Otterbein University and Ohio Northern University as big opponents. Capital will host ONU on March 30 and the Crusaders will welcome the Cardinals on April 13.
Before OAC play, Capital’s season will resume in Indiana at Hanover College on March 15 and at Franklin College on March 16. The Crusaders will play 18 games on the road and 14 games at home over the remainder of this season for a total of 40 games. Capital’s first home series of the season though is not until March 27, a doubleheader against Kenyon College.
Until that point though, Capital will use the positive lessons the player have learned to build upon their early successes. Of course, some of the most important lessons the Crusaders have learned, especially the new players, is how vital the mental aspect of the game is at the college level.
If the Crusaders can continue their hot hitting, find consistent play on the mound and become comfortable in their skills and roles as the year goes on, the team has the players and ability to surprise people. In the nine-run comeback attempt on March 1, the Crusaders showed a fighting spirit along with that skill, something Coach Payne hopes will be a hallmark of this year’s team.
Payne and Mangen both know that there is a lot of talent in this year’s group, a fact that will help Capital keep the faith if things get tough. The combination of that talent, the team’s mental training in the offseason and the positive signs the team saw in Florida will go a long way towards propelling Capital forward. And if the Crusaders can rise to meet the challenges ahead of them, watch out.
To follow Capital Softball all season long, visit athletics.capital.edu/sball, follow Capital Athletics on Twitter, follow the team's Twitter account, 'Like' Capital Athletics on Facebook and follow Capital Athletics on Instagram.