The playing careers of three ETSU softball student-athletes came to an end Sunday as the Bucs were beaten by league-leading No. 23 USC Upstate; however, the foundation put in place by the outgoing Class of 2014 leaves the ETSU softball program with a bright future as it rejoins the Southern Conference next season.
Seniors Jackie Baird, Elliana Cabrera and Katie Wolff, playing in their final collegiate games, were unable to lead ETSU to a victory over perennial power USC Upstate on the Buccaneers’ (20-32, 7-17) Senior Day. USC Upstate ace, Anna Miller, tossed her sixth career no-hitter Sunday as the Spartans (44-5, 23-2) put the finishing touches on an historic campaign that saw USC Upstate set program records for single-season wins and Atlantic Sun wins.
And while Baird, Cabrera and Wolff could not leave the Bucs with a win, the trio left the program with something much more important: a standard of hard work and determintion that ETSU’s young nucleus can assume as it continues the softball program’s ascent to conference contender.
“This senior class definitely laid the foundation of hard work,” ETSU head coach Brad Irwin said. “I think a lot of our young kids can look to that and see that their hard work was rewarded and paid off – they can see their approach and use that as a model.”
Largely due to the on-field contributions and off-field leadership of its senior class, the ETSU softball team endured a difficult league schedule to win seven Atlantic Sun contests, the program’s most since 2008. Regarded as one of the nation’s top softball conferences, the Atlantic Sun currently has eighth member schools ranking among the nation’s RPI Top 120. Only the SEC, Pac-12, and ACC have more.
Together, Baird and Wolff were responsible for nearly one-third of ETSU’s offense this season, combining to score 54 times and drive in 68 runs. Baird, ETSU’s all-time home run leader (33), set single-season records for homers (20), RBI (50), and slugging percentage (0.776) while Wolff set single-season records of her owns for batting average (0.394), doubles (12), and on-base percentage (0.439).
“It’s tough to say goodbye to this senior class,” Irwin said. “All three have been very good leaders – I know the younger girls have looked to them for leadership, and obviously the offensive production this year from Jackie and Katie was outstanding.”
However, with a solid foundation in place, the Buccaneers’ 18 players set to return next season will look to use the lessons and precedents left by the seniors as a benchmark for a 2014 campaign in which ETSU will rejoin the Southern Conference. Before joining the Atlantic Sun Conference in 2005, the Buccaneers spent more than 25 years competing in the SoCon.
“We have a good nucleus returning,” Irwin said. “A lot of games this year, we started four or five freshmen. There is a lot of potential for the young kids to take the reigns next season and advance the program. The future is bright.”