Earlier this season, Memphis softball looked like a team that was on their way up. After a 5-9 start to the season, they got back on track and went on a seven-game win streak. All things started to go their way. Until they didn’t.
The Tigers are now 21-25 (3-11 American Athletic Conference) and can’t seem to string together consistent positive performances. This has been most apparent since the start of conference play.
Since their first conference series against ECU in late March, they’ve only managed to get one conference victory in their last nine contest. Though many reasons could be given for their collapse, I think pitching has to be the team’s undisputed Achilles’ heel.
For the season, they’ve walked a whooping 196 batters, and there are still eight more games remaining in the regular season. Sophomore pitcher Mariah Nichols leads the team with 86. On average, they walk 4.5 batters per game.
Tigers’ head coach Natalie Poole stressed this issue with her team often and told the media she knows she has a good team but the repeated walks only make things worse.
“We’ve shown time and time again that we can score the runs necessary to win games, but when we can’t stop giving batters free bases, we’re essentially giving away wins,” Poole said.
Poole has a point. In the team’s 14 conference games, they’ve already walked 79 batters while striking out just 50 batters. Three pitchers have double digit walks.
Those walks don’t just put extra people on base, but they also allow opponents to score extra runs. Of the 98 runs scored on the Tigers in conference play, 18 of them were not earned and were results of getting walked into home plate.
A prime example of their struggles came in their April 14 game against the Wichita Shockers where they walked 13 batters and lost the game 15-3. Each pitcher who played allowed at least one walked batter, and Bayleigh Wisher and Nichols both had five walks of their own.
In their following series against Houston, they walked six batters in the first game and three in the second game, but Poole still wasn’t pleased.
“Although we’d like to have less than that, it was a better performance,” Poole said. “That’s really what we worked on in our two practices this week. Clearly, it was important for us to get better, unfortunately they still found ways to cross the plate.”
The Tigers currently rank seventh out of the eight teams in the AAC conference standings, and they’ll be hard pressed to make any significant strides in their final six conference games against top ranked USF and UCF.
When Poole was asked by the media about her mindset in the final stages of the regular season, she said her top priority is defense.
“We just have to continue to get better at the things that are keeping us behind in ball games,” Poole said. “We can’t give up big hits in moments when runners are on, and we have to step up behind our pitchers. We have to be able to support them, so if they’re going to be out there throwing strikes, we have to make plays to keep us afloat.”