May 28, 2009
Rome, Ga. - Nothing can change the sour taste left in their mouths.
Yet in the wake of being unable to advance out of pool play for the third straight year at the NAIA National Softball Championship, the Shorter Lady Hawks softball team knows that the 2009 season was truly a sweet one.
"We were one game away again, but we did better than we have in the past," Shorter head coach Melanie Carter said. The Lady Hawks won their first two pool games at this year's national tourney in Decatur, Ala., before being eliminated by NAIA defending national champion Lubbock Christian.
"Sooner or later things will go our way."
Carter knows that despite being ranked in the Top-25 for the entire season, the Lady Hawks (44-16) had to take matters in their own hands to achieve another successful season, blending a potent pitching staff with a solid defense to help compensate for a hitting attack that rode a roller coaster.
In the field, the Lady Hawks proved their ability, ending the season with a stellar .951 fielding average.
On the mound, Shorter counted on the 1-2 combination of senior Becca Thomas and sophomore Libby Munson to keep foes in check, with Thomas closing out her career with an 18-7 record and 1.63 earned-run-average.
Munson continued to carve her name in the Lady Hawks record book. She was named the Southern States Athletic Conference Player of the Year, was the SSAC tournament Most Valuable Player and earned 2009 NAIA Honorable Mention All-America honors.
Munson was a dual threat, posting a 21-6 record with a 1.50 ERA and 217 strikeouts while batting .319 with 36 RBIs and 13 doubles.
Yet even Munson's offensive numbers were short of what she had anticipated and reflect the struggles of the entire team.
The Lady Hawks - junior Amanda Albertson led Shorter with a .350 average - finished with a below-par, .283 team average.
"There was no doubt in my mind we wouldn't hit .300 as a team, and I take some of the blame because I took it for granted," Carter said. "We are definitely going to focus on it more next year."
Focus, a trait that Shorter used effectively to defend its SSAC tournament championship this year, went missing in Decatur thanks to Mother Nature.
After rolling to wins in their first two games of pool play over Morningside (Iowa) and Asbury (Ky.), the Lady Hawks were primed to take on Lubbock Christian in the third and final pool game, one that would send the winner into the round of eight and the loser home.
Much to the chagrin of Carter, bad weather put the contest on hold for 24 hours and when Shorter finally hit the diamond for the game, any momentum the team had gained was lost.
"I think we would have had an advantage if we played when we were supposed to," Carter said.
Instead, the Lady Hawks ran into a Lubbock squad that saw pitcher Alyssa Gutierrez shut down Shorter and wasted little time in hitting Shorter's ace, Munson, as Lubbock exploded to a 7-0 lead after two innings.
Shorter pitcher Elisabeth Barber took over on the mound and allowed one hit rest of way in relief, but the Lady Hawks were unable to respond and eventually fell to an 8-0 defeat.
"It was a combination of things," Carter said. "We didn't come out hitting, we made some stupid errors and they hit Libby all over the place.
"I probably should have seen it. Libby played into their hitting style. The faster the pitcher, the better they hit. Everybody was just in shock."
Lubbock wound up being eliminated in the round of eight, losing consecutive games in the double elimination format.
Ironically, the team that ousted Shorter in pool play in the 2008 championship, California Baptist, went on to win the 2009 national title.
"It's not the pool draw I'm concerned about," Carter said. "You're going to see any one of the top eight teams.
"Rankings don't mean a thing when you get there and anybody can get hot for seven games."
Carter and the Lady Hawks are already looking ahead at ensuring they get a fourth shot at extending their season.
"We will be talking with every player this summer to see where they are and what we need to do," Carter said. "We will go after it again."