WINONA LAKE – Grace’s softball team is days away from kicking off the 2020 campaign.
The Lady Lancers, led by second-year head coach Sarah Harman, are aiming to turn the corner this spring.
Grace struggled to finish close games last year, losing 16 contests by one or two runs. Harman maintained that a change in mentality could make a big difference on the diamond in 2020.
Harman has been diligent to build a strong team culture, one that values the team as a whole. That culture will be important, according to Harman, during a year in which the team’s success relies more on the collective whole than on any individual.
“The focus for this team has been coming together on our standards and our culture. A working culture equates to a winning culture, and our team understands that,” Harman said. “This group recognizes the privilege it is to wear the ‘Grace’ script across their chest. They understand how to represent this program and are great role models.”
Grace will need to have a clean, steady defense to reach its potential this spring. Olivia Scarbrough has been solid in the middle of the infield, and Harman noted that Scarbrough has been consistent in both the routine and difficult plays during the preseason.
Jessica Kaurich is a commanding presence behind the plate, making 46 starts as a freshman last season as the team’s primary catcher. Kaurich has great confidence, in Harman’s words, but also knows how to balance the game and the pitching staff.
Both Kaurich and Scarbrough hit over .300 last spring in Crossroads League competition with Kaurich hitting .333 with 11 doubles, 2 homers and 17 RBIs.
Joining them at the plate will be the experienced bats of Brittney Young, Morgan Tapscott, Bethany Gardner, Hannah Harless and Kaitlyn Heffner.
Young was Grace’s RBI queen last year, pounding out 34 RBIs while batting .329. Tapscott enjoyed a career-best season in 2019, tallying 39 hits, 5 doubles and 2 home runs. Tapscott’s athleticism and versatility will likely see her play either right field or third base.
Heffner is poised for an expanded role, both in the field and at bat. After playing last season at third base, Heffner will make the unusual transition to center field. “Kaitlyn has looked fantastic in the field, and her bat has been hot in the leadoff position during the fall,” Harman said.
The pitchers’ mound will see the greatest change in 2020. Only one pitcher returns in junior Dori Knight.
Knight started 11 games and posted a 4.70 ERA in 76 innings of work. She is an analytical pitcher, and Harman believes that Knight’s mental strength will continue her growth and allow her to pitch deep into games.
Jeri Ellis is a dynamic pitching talent who will be relied on heavily. Ellis, a freshman from Connersville High School (Ind.), can hit and brings speed to the outfield when she is not in the pitchers’ circle.
Ashley Beckler, Taylor Graber and Kendra Arnold will also provide new arms for the Lady Lancers.
Grace has several on-the-field goals this spring, goals such as a winning season and postseason aspirations. Harman commented that the ladies “are not satisfied with where this program is.” But the Lady Lancers are looking as much at cultural goals as team accomplishments.
“We want to hold one another accountable while also loving each other and walking alongside each other,” Harman said. “We won’t change our standards based on adversity; the day-to-day environment will not be compromised. We will remain in the moment and not look too far ahead or too far behind.”
Harman was thankful for last year’s senior class (Michaela Lee, Sam Heim, Emily Bobb) for laying the foundation for how a team should trust the process. And now the task is laid at the feet of the 2020 Lady Lancers, the 40th team in program history.
“I have seen this team grow together so much, trusting each other and the process,” Harman said. “The Lord has been aligning our steps throughout the hard days and the rewarding ones. If the women stay glued together, then we will turn a huge corner this season.”
The Lady Lancers are scheduled to start the season this weekend, playing at IU Southeast on Friday. Grace will play a tournament in Tennessee later in February before embarking on a week-long trip to Alabama in March.
The first home games of the year at Coach Phil Dick Field are slated for March 10 against Bethel.