By Ben Savallo
TJC softball hasn’t skipped a beat and has been more dominant than ever after a gut check from Weatherford College earlier in the season.
“We play 60 practice games for one weekend — one opportunity at regionals to go to the national tournament. So everything up to that point is just working on improving and getting better,” said Head Softball Coach Nicole Dickson.
TJC, since losing to Weatherford, has been nothing short of dominant. But the spotlight has somewhat slipped from the powerful offense to the dominant defense. Before the loss, TJC’s offense was putting up monstrous numbers in the NJCAA statistics. They were first in home runs, extra base hits and runs batted in. But since then, the defense is now the center of attention for this softball team.
TJC’s pitching rotation threw four shutouts in a 16-game span to start the season. Since the start of conference play, they have shut down their opponents in 12 different games. According to Coach Dickson, this rotation of four different girls who understand their roles as pitchers have the “depth” and “support” to help each other and meet the challenge when called upon. It has been nearly impossible for hitters to get hits against their pitching ace, Abby Walker. With one no-hitter already under her belt; Walker threw a perfect game with 14 strikeouts in their first game against Navarro College.
Although defense is where it begins, a dominant defense needs more than just a fierce pitching rotation to be successful. In the first 16 games of the season, the Apache defense gave up 39 runs but has only allowed 40 since the start of conference play. As competitive as these girls are, it’s no wonder the defense has reached elite rankings, being first in the nation in shutouts (19), second in opponent’s batting average (.203), and second in strikeouts thrown (343).
TJC, as a team, has moved up to #1 in the country according to the Marucci D1 Softball Rankings with a record of 50-1; which ended Central Florida University’s season-long reign at the top spot.
“All the hard work they put in, you’re really seeing it start to payoff so it’s exciting to see,” said Assistant Softball Coach Audrey Farfan.
Dropping that one game has somewhat sharpened the focus of this Apache team. Since the loss, they have really zeroed in on what needs to be fixed and what needs to be done in order to succeed at the next level of play. It really has lit such a fire under this sleeping defensive beast that other teams wish they’d never gotten out of bed.
And with the final stretch of games coming up next week, TJC looks to enter the regional tournament undefeated in conference. This feat would be the first of its kind in TJC softball history. But standing in their way is Angelina College, who earlier in the season had given the lady Apaches a run for their money.
Last time Angelina College visited TJC they only allowed three runs in both games — a season low for the Apaches. The only time TJC has scored less than five runs in a game in conference play was against Angelina College — twice. But this time the Apaches will be visiting Angelina College in Lufkin, Texas. This truly will be TJC’s final test before entering the tournament.