After a run of 30-straight wins to open the 2016 season, BR-1 West Texas A&M suffered their first defeat of the season in the opener of a Lone Star Conference series at BR-20 Texas A&M-Commerce this past weekend. The Lady Buffs responded taking the nightcap and followed with wins on both ends of a doubleheader the next day – wins 750 and 751 of coach Kevin Blaskowski's career.
Coach Blaskowski now sits with a 751-508 record throughout his 24-year career, including a 399-231 mark over his 11-year tenure at West Texas. Blaskowski becomes one of 14 active D2 softball coaches with at least 750 wins, and is the 30th coach in D2 history with as many.
With all the success the program has had, specifically a National Championship season in 2014, Blaskowski doesn’t like to compare his teams, “At the beginning of the year we talked as a team about this group needing to find their own way to write their chapter in the history of Lady Buff Softball. We only have three current players from the 2014 National Championship team, so it was critical for this group to find it’s own identity.”
That identity seems to involve being continually holding onto the top spot in BennettRank, as well as the number one ranking in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) D2 Top-25 Poll.
Blaskowski credits the team’s chemistry with this season success, “This group’s chemistry is key to our success. No one is expecting any one person to carry the load. Everyone accepts their role and steps up and contributes when called upon." He also credits his hurlers' success in the circle, "Our pitching staff has been solid. Tori Bayer has done a great job coming out of the bullpen and getting the save or holding our opponents until the offense gets going.”
Just last week, Bayer (pictured at left) earned honors as the Lone Star Conference Softball Pitcher of the Week for the second straight week.
The senior hurler continued to dominate in the circle, as the right hander went 2-0 with a pair of saves. Bayer leads the Lone Star Conference in saves this season with six, she registered a 0.60 ERA with 11 strikeouts in 11.2 innings of work while allowing just one run and an opposing batting average of .250 last week in her four appearances.
The Lady Buffs lead the nation in scoring, crossing the plate an average of 9.06 times per game – their 1.41 home runs per game rank third.
As a team they sport the second best batting average in D2, hitting at a .374 clip as a team while defensively, they rank 11th overall with a .974 fielding percentage.
In the circle, Bayer's six saves ranks third in the nation, while leading the WT offense is freshman outfielder Kourtney Coveney’s .463 batting average – ranking 29th in D2.
Coach Blaskowski called out his group of freshmen for making an impact right away this season, “Our freshmen have really stepped up. Kourtney Coveny, Shayne Starkey and Brittany Cruz have been very strong in the 7-8-9 part of our lineup. Kylee Moore, Briana Garza and Emilee Baker have had some key at-bats and come through for us also. Chelsea Skipper has had some quality starts in the circle and been successful. The readiness of that class to contribute at the collegiate level has been key.”
Behind, and at the plate, senior All-American catcher Lacey Taylor continues to be an impact player for the Lady Buffs. Taylor, who led the Lone Star Conference in hitting last season, has plenty of help this spring. Sophomore Ashley Hardin leads the LSC in home runs with 11 – tied for sixth in D2, while junior Shea Ibrahim also has seven dingers to match Taylor’s total. Freshman outfielder Brittany Cruz (pictured at right) has also added six homers, and combined, the quartet have tallied over 140 runs batted in so far this season. Senior shortstop Stacey Ramirez continues to produce from the lead-off spot, hitting at a .436 clip and having crossed the plate a league-leading 41 times so far this season – tied for fourth best in D2.
At the halfway point of the Lone Star Conference schedule, the Lady Buffs show no sign of letting up their stranglehold on the nation's top spot, and have been enjoying the ride. Coach Blaskowski sums it up, “This team has been a lot of fun to coach to this point. Hopefully, it continues and we have a shot to go deep into the post-season.”
They'll be fun to watch, too.