Cougars softball has high hopes

College of Charleston vs. University of Tennessee, NCAA, women's softball, February 28, 2013, 2013-2-28, Photographer: Al Samuels

Al Samuels

If College of Charleston softball coach Shelly Hoerner ever wondered about the heart of this year’s Cougars team, she got her answer in the second game of a three-game series with Chattanooga.

In the bottom of the fourth inning with Charleston trailing, 2-1, center fielder Carly Corthell was running from second to third base and collided with Chattanooga’s Alyssa Taylor, knocking the Moccasins shortstop out of the game with a concussion.

When Corthell went to bat in the fifth inning, Chattanooga pitcher Kaisey Carson threw at her — not once, but twice — hitting her in the head.

It was all the Cougars needed to get motivated.

Charleston erupted for six runs that inning and added five more runs in the sixth to end the game, 12-2, on the mercy rule. The Cougars would follow that up with a 6-0 victory over Chattanooga the following game, capping a three-game sweep.

“It was really cool to see everyone on the bench come together all at once,” said Cougars shortstop Lizzy Vaughn. “We didn’t go out on the field and fight them, we went out and fought back by putting hits together. We just shoved it right back in their faces.”

It’s that kind of moment that galvanized Hoerner’s optimistic about the Cougars’ chances at this year’s Southern Conference tournament. The second-seeded Cougars, who have been the SoCon tournament runners-up the last two seasons, open the tournament today in Greensboro, N.C., against Western Carolina at noon.

“To me that was the turning point in the season for us,” Hoerner said. “We talked a lot at the beginning of the season about having each other’s backs. But you can talk about it all you want. Until something like that happens it’s just talk. This team is special team. This team is different.”

The Cougars proved just how special they were over the last month.

Charleston won 15 of their final 17 games. There was no team in the SoCon hotter than Charleston during the month of April when the Cougars won 13 straight games. During the streak, the Cougars outscored their opponents, 85-11.

As a team the Cougars hit .338 and gave up just nine earned runs in 81 innings during the streak. Pitchers Hope Klicker and Stephanie Saylo combined to go 11-0 with an earned run average of 0.79.

“Everyone knows their roles,” Klicker said. “No one is out for themselves. We all have one goal — to win.”

Getting to the championship game won’t be enough for this team, said outfielder Kristy Giragosian.

“Getting that close to your goal, but coming up just short of it is so frustrating,” Giragosian said. “I think this is the most talented team we’ve had here by far, so we’ve got high hopes going into the tournament.”

Staying out of the loser’s bracket in the double-elimination tournament will be a key for the Cougars, Hoerner said.

“We’ve had to come through the loser’s bracket and I think that has worn us out when we got to the final day,” she said. “We’ve had to play six or seven games to get to the finals and that takes its toll on the team.”