Softball Season Recap
- The softball team won their first MIAA regular season title and made their first-ever NCAA Championship Tournament appearance.
- The Belles set new program marks for wins (36), fewest losses (7), and most All-MIAA, All-Region, and All-American honorees in a single season.
- The team also added a thirteen-game winning streak while garnering their first top-ten national ranking,
The Saint Mary’s softball team put together the most successful year in program history with an impressive 2018 season. A thirteen-game winning streak, a top-ten national ranking, the program’s first MIAA regular season title, a school record for wins, and the team’s first-ever appearance in the NCAA Championship tournament were all the outcomes of a full season of work.
The season opened at the Transylvania Pio Classic in early March as the Belles posted a 4-0 record over two days. The team’s annual spring break trip to Florida saw the success continue to build as Saint Mary’s dropped just one contest – a 3-1 setback against eventual Midwest Conference season champion and NCAA Championship qualifier Lake Forest – on their way to a 13-1 record through the first week and a half of competition. During that stretch of play, the Belles defeated eventual NCAA Championship participants Benedictine and Transylvania (twice).
Saint Mary’s opened up their home slate of competitions on March 23 with back-to-back shutouts of Wheaton. After falling in the final inning against North Central the following day, the Belles hit their stride with a shutout in game two against the Cardinals. That win kicked off a 13-game winning streak – the longest in program history. The Belles earned a pair of mercy rule-shortened wins at Manchester to give head coach Kelli Zache Martin 100 career victories. The team then opened conference play with a sweep at Albion at the end of the week.
Saint Mary’s then put together quite possibly the most impressive week of the season. In a span of six days, the Belles went 8-0 to open league play as the team swept Adrian, then-ranked No. 20 Calvin, Alma, and then-ranked No. 8 Trine to move to 28-2 and tie the program record for wins in a season with three conference doubleheaders still remaining. Midway through that week, the team made their debut in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Top 25 poll by coming in 25th in the April 11 ranking. After the 6-0 week and four wins over Top 25 teams, the Belles skyrocketed to No. 7 in the April 18 ranking by the NFCA.
The Belles saw their winning streak come to an end with a last at-bat loss at then-ranked No. 20 Hope, but Saint Mary’s got back to their winning ways with a comeback victory in game two against the Flying Dutch to establish a new program record for wins in a season. That weekend, the team prevailed in both ends of a doubleheader against Olivet on Senior Day to reach 30 wins for the 2018 campaign. Needing just one win in the final doubleheader of the regular season at Kalamazoo to clinch the MIAA title, the Belles swept the Hornets in a pair of mercy-rule shortened shutouts. The wins gave the Saint Mary’s softball team their first MIAA regular season title in program history as the Belles secured hosting rights for the top-four MIAA Tournament.
Weather had not been kind through much of the spring, and weather continued to create issues as day one of the MIAA Tournament was postponed after several inches of rain fell. When the teams took to the field on Friday, May 4, the Belles were unstoppable as they prevailed 6-2 over Alma and 8-0 (5 innings) over then-ranked No. 16 Calvin to secure a spot in the championship. Those two wins also gave the seven members of the senior class on the team their 100th career victory to cement their legacy as the most successful class in program history. On day two, however, Hope rode the momentum of winning through the loser’s side of the bracket and took two decisions over the Belles to win the tournament and the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Championship.
The following Monday, Saint Mary’s was announced as an at-large berth recipient and regional host site for the NCAA Championship Tournament, marking the first-ever appearance for the softball team in the national tournament.
On day one of the NCAA Regional, the Belles had a strong showing in a 6-1 victory over Mount Aloysius to advance in the winner’s bracket portion of the tournament. Day two opened with a 5-0 setback against Ohio Northern as Saint Mary’s was shut out for the first and only time of the season. The Belles’ season was then stopped later that day in an elimination game loss to a Case Western team who went on to the Division III Women’s College World Series.
Saint Mary’s finished the year among the nation’s top Division III softball teams in win-loss percentage (6th), fielding percentage (10th), triples per game (16th), shutouts (19th), earned run average (26th), on-base percentage (31st), batting average (34th), and scoring (35th). The Belles surrendered just 84 earned runs and gave up a miniscule 27 unearned runs in 2018. Conversely, the scored 196 earned runs and 83 unearned runs against their opposition this past spring.
Six players with at least 95 at-bats registered batting averages over .300 and at least 33 hits in 2018 as the team posted a collective .340 batting average. Cassie Young led the way with a .481 average while Jamie Young tallied school-records of 69 hits and 50 runs. Makenzie Duncan joined the fray with a batting average above .400 with 59 hits, team-highs in doubles, triples and home runs, and a program-record 59 RBI. Kelsey Keilman, Madelynne Keller, and Kelsey Richards added batting averages above .300. Defensively, the Belles boasted a .972 fielding percentage. Saint Mary’s committed only 34 errors in more than 1200 chances. Pitching was strong for the team all season. Morgan Raymer established a new single-season program record for victories with 19 while Jessica Alberts posted a career-best season with 26 wins and a team-low 1.78 ERA.
The record-breaking year was not confined to wins, losses and statistics, although the team did set new program marks for wins (36) and fewest losses (7). Six Belles were named All-MIAA, four garnered All-Region accolades, and two were tabbed All-American – all of which were program records. Morgan Raymer, a three-time MIAA Pitcher of the Week, was named the MIAA Pitcher of the Year and earned a spot on the First Team. Makenzie Duncan, Cassie Young, and Jamie Young were also First Team selections while Jessica Alberts and Kelsey Keilman were named to the Second Team. The All-Region announcement saw Cassie Young pick up her third consecutive First Team All-Region honor while Jamie Young was the shortstop selection for the First Team in 2018. Morgan Raymer claimed one of the two pitching spots on the Second Team, and Makenzie Duncan was an at-large selection on the Second Team. A week later, Cassie Young and Jamie Young were both named Third Team All-American selections for 2018.