Long Beach State softball has rewritten its own record books over the last seven years with an explosive offense. The Beach has hit over .280 as a team in six of the last seven seasons while setting new marks in batting average, hits, RBIs, runs, home runs and doubles.
With six returning starters and more than a dozen players with valuable experience back in the lineup this year, LBSU coach Kim Sowder thinks her squad has a chance to break more records.
“Offensively this team can be as good as any we’ve had,” Sowder said. “It’s a tall task but I definitely think it’s possible. We have a good balance. Everyone in the lineup can hit for power, but we also have lefties who can put the ball in play and put runners in motion.”
All-Big West honorees sophomore Maddy Ruffin, junior Naomi Hernandez and senior Taylor Rowland plus All-Region returners junior Alyssa Gonzalez and senior Sydney McCollum makes for a formidable lineup.
The Big West coaches picked LBSU to finish second with a pair of first-place votes.
“We can’t wait to get started,” Sowder said. “We definitely have high expectations and I think having seven seniors who are all going to be impact players is exciting. They’re doing a great job leading the way right now.”
Senior Taylor Rowland was named All-American as a sophomore, and was one of five returning players who hit over .270 last season. She is two home runs away from being top 10 in program history, and will likely hit behind Gonzalez. The transfer junior is coming off a breakout sophomore season with 40 RBIs, five home runs, 10 doubles and a .338 batting average.
“We’ve been very fortunate with the level of talent we’ve gotten in our transfers who fit in and contribute right away,” Sowder said. “That’s because they’re quality people, and also good softball players.”
The junior transfer McCollum led LBSU with eight stolen bases last year while playing multiple infield positions. Hernandez led the Beach with 25 walks.
Sowder said freshman outfielder and second baseman Sara Olson will also contribute in the otherwise experienced lineup.
“When they’re out there winning in conditioning and beating the upperclassman and doing anything they can … you can see that competitive spirit,” Sowder said of her first-year players. “It stands out.”
Freshmen pitchers Morgan Quinlan and Shelby Frutoz also will see some playing time, but the circle is already very full with returners Ashley Coleman, Kellie White and Devyn Magnett ready to shoulder the bulk of the work. LBSU is returning 98.7 percent of its innings pitched, and all 50 starts, from last year.
White is a senior transfer from Utah State who struck out 101 batters and posted a 2.89 ERA in 138 innings last season. Coleman won 13 games and had seven shutouts, including a no-hitter against Loyola Marymount. Magnett served as a relief pitcher and had a 2.72 ERA in 15 appearances. She also won 10 games in 2018. Sowder said Magnett is a good, smart leader for her dynamic pitching staff.
“It all starts in the circle and finding ways to win in the critical moments consistently,” Sowder said of winning a Big West title. “Hitting will win you games, but you need the pitching and defense to win a championship.”
LBSU has won three Big West titles and reached seven NCAA Regionals since Sowder took over in 2007.
Last week, the Beach opened the season with a tournament in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where LBSU’s White and fellow senior Breezy Wise were both named to the all-tournament team.
White went 2-1 in the circle with wins over Nevada and George Washington, striking out 17 in four appearances. Wise was the leading hitter for the Beach with a .429 average and a pair of doubles.
This weekend, the Beach is on the road in Arizona for the second tough tournament of the season. LBSU will face Bryant Friday morning morning to kickoff the Hillenbrand Invitational before taking on the host No. 5 Arizona Wildcats. The Beach also will face No. 3 Oklahoma for the second time this year in one of five games at the tournament.