With entire roster back, Wright State softball coach eyes future

Wright State’s Olivia Otani fires a pitch plateward against Northern Kentucky on April 2, 2019. Joseph Craven/CONTRIBUTED
Wright State’s Olivia Otani fires a pitch plateward against Northern Kentucky on April 2, 2019. Joseph Craven/CONTRIBUTED

The Wright State softball team had no seniors this year and slumped to a 22-33 record. But while the regular drubbings were hard to take, coach Laura Matthews cited at least one benefit from having only freshmen, sophomores and juniors in the program.

There were no tearful farewells after the season’s final pitch.

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“I’ve never experienced as a coach where you’re not saying goodbye to a kid because their career is ending. You always hate it when the season is over,” said Matthews, who is in her second year with the Raiders after five at Wittenberg. “We’re looking at this as the halfway point of our journey together with the players who are here.”

The Raiders finished 9-15 in the Horizon League and failed to qualify for the conference tournament as a top-six team for the first time in seven years.

But Matthews wasn’t surprised by the dip in performance.

“When I took this job about 18 months ago, I always knew this would be the toughest year,” she said. “We had five seniors last year who started for us. And once they were gone, there wasn’t a whole lot here. We’ve had to really develop and play kids a lot earlier than we should have had to.

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“But nobody is leaving. If we’re healthy, there’s no reason to think we won’t out-perform what we did this year.”

The Raiders had three players make the all-league team Tuesday, including first-teamer Raidyn Johnson.

The sophomore designated hitter has been plagued by injuries since joining the team after graduating a semester early from Beavercreek. But she was fourth in the conference with a .358 average in 41 games, and she batted .422 in league play.

“She had a great year for us offensively. We’re really excited about her future,” Matthews said.

Junior outfielder and leadoff hitter Rebekah Lenos, who batted .313, and freshman second-baseman Madison Hartman (.311) were second-team picks.

The Raiders have other potential stars, too. Sophomore short stop Madison Whitaker batted .278 and had a team-high five home runs and 30 RBIs, and freshman catcher Madison Nunez hit .263 with 26 RBIs.

“We competed pretty well offensively. I actually think we out-performed my expectations on the offensive side,” Matthews said. “A lot of the credit goes to my assistants (Kennedy Haynes and Dave Brittingham), who work with our hitters primarily. Our young pitching got better, but we still have a long way to go in that area.”

Freshmen Makenna Durieux, Lexie Hilling and Olivia Otani were on the mound for all but 34 innings this year, but their ERAs hovered around 4.00.

Even with all the returnees, Matthews expects plenty of competition next year because of a strong recruiting class.

“We’re pumped about our freshmen coming in. We’ve got a lot of local kids,” she said. “We think they can step in and make an impact right away. They’re really high-character kids who are just going to add to what we’re doing.”

Women's track: The Raiders finished fifth in the league meet last weekend. Brooklyn Mikesell was first in the 400 hurdles and third in the 100 hurdles, while Aurora Turner was first and Hailey Brumfield second in the 3000 steeplechase.

Shelby Nolan had the team’s other top-two individual showing with a second in the 10,000 run.

Baseball: Senior leftfielder J.D Orr set the program record for career stolen bases with a pair of thefts Sunday against Youngstown State. He's now up to 105 after getting three more in a 6-5 loss at Ohio State on Wednesday.

The Raiders (34-15, 16-8) are first in the league with a 1.5-game lead on Milwaukee (27-17, 14-9) with six to go, including three this weekend against Northern Kentucky. The 1 p.m. Sunday finale will be held at Fifth Third Field.