Most Surprising & Disappointing SBC Softball Teams So Far
Who are the most surprising and disappointing teams in the Sun Belt Conference, so far, in the 2019 college softball season?
Actually, I don't think the answer to either question is very hard.
My runaway choice for the most surprising team is the Appalachian St. Mountaineers, while my pick for most disappointing is the Georgia St. Panthers.
Appalachian St. is turning some heads, after sweeping a three-game conference series from Georgia Southern over the weekend, in which they outscored the Eagles, 21-7.
The Mountaineers, a team most picked to finish in the cellar of the league standings once again this year, is off to a 13-6 start, as well an an unbeaten (3-0) conference start.
Understand; this is an Appalachian St. program that went 17-35 last season, including a 4-20 conference record.
Digging even deeper; prior to this season, in their four seasons in the Sun Belt Conference, the Mountaineers compiled an overall mark of 56-149, as well as a dismal 9-86 conference mark over that span.
So far this season, only one-third of the way in, Appalachian St. is on pace to win 35 games, qualify for the Sun Belt Conference Tournament for the first time, and have their first winning season since 2013.
What's the biggest reason for the Mountaineers' turnaround?
I think the answer is their head coach, Shelly Hoerner, who coached at Georgia Tech for four years, prior to taking over at Appalachian St. in 2018, and who had success at the College of Charleston before her stint at Georgia Tech.
Hoerner knows the game, has recruiting ties throughout the country, and understands what it takes to be competitive in softball; pitching and defense.
Sure, offense separates the great teams from the average teams, but if you can pitch and play defense, then you always have a shot.
Five weeks through this season, the Mountaineers are fourth in the league in pitching (2.50 ERA.) and second in fielding (.979 pct.), which are both substantially better than last year, when they finished last in both pitching (2.42 ERA.) and fielding (.953).
Again; Hoerner understands the importance of pitching and defense. She went out and got junior Sydney Holland, while developing Kenzie Longanecker, .
She also put an emphasis on playing defense behind them.
And it's worked. Holland currently ranks third in the Sun Belt Conference in ERA. (1.52), while Longanecker is 7th (2.87).
And before you question the schedule; Appalachian St. was playing similar foes last season.
Appalachian St. will likely never be a league power. After all, there's a ski mountain in Boone, North Carolina. That doesn't exactly make it conducive to softball, or spring sports. But the Mountaineers have shown that it is possible for them to be competitive.
Hoerner has done a fabulous job of turning around the Appalachian St., and it's good to see them having some success.
On the other end of the equation, did anybody expect Georgia St. to be 2-21 right now?
Granted, after losing a couple of outstanding senior hitters, in Ivie Drake and Megan Litumbe, and a quality arm, in Kinsley Jennings, from last year's team, most expected the Panthers to regress this season, but not to this level.
Remember what I said about a team needing to pitch and play defense to able able to compete?
Well, Georgia St. currently ranks 9th in the league in pitching (5.88 ERA.) and 9th in fielding (.948 pct.).
After getting swept by Coastal Carolina over the weekend, the Panthers are now 2-21, overall, and 0-3 in league play.
I like Roger Kincaid. He's a good coach, and I believe he'll turn them around; just not this year.
Kincaid put together some very good team as of late, guiding the Panthers to 7-straight 30-win seasons, which makes this year even more puzzling.
Yes, most teams have peaks and valleys, but I would have never thought Georgia St. would be 2-21 right now.