Strong pitching performances by Sarratt, Broyles lead team to win
Entering Wednesday’s doubleheader at Beckham Field, coach Beverly Smith and her South Carolina softball team knew that they still had an outside shot at an SEC tournament berth, but a loss could crush those aspirations in an instant.
“At this point in the season, all the wins are big for us,” Smith said. “I was just wanting our girls to go up there and have some really good at bats.”
South Carolina (26-20, 4-14 SEC) answered its coach’s call with two dominant wins over UNC-Charlotte to keep its slim SEC hopes alive and guarantee the first winning season with Smith at the helm of the program.
The first game featured another productive outing from the ace of USC’s pitching staff, redshirt sophomore Julie Sarratt, in a 10-2 rout of the 49ers. Sarratt went six innings, allowing only two hits and recording six strikeouts. She was backed up by an offensive explosion led by a 3-for-4 showing at the plate from sophomore Kristen Struett.
South Carolina took the second game of the doubleheader with a 5-0 shutout behind a much-needed strong start from redshirt senior pitcher Audrey Broyles, who had lost her previous four decisions.
“It felt really, really good. It was just a good day,” Broyles said. “Defense was on point. They were loud and energetic, keeping me up. So that’s always key when you just feel the energy from the whole field.”
Broyles had a four-hit shutout, struck out seven batters and was credited with the win, improving her record on the year to 8-8.
Heading into the gauntlet of two strong conference foes that the Gamecocks will face to close out the season, Broyles’s coach said it was good for her to have such a definitive outing.
“I was really happy for Audrey. She pitched great tonight,” Smith said. “For her to throw a shutout is big, but Audrey throws a great mix of pitches, and I think she kept the batters off balance all night and she really did a super job.”
Broyles bestowed much of the credit for her performance to the run support she received, saying the confidence in her offense allows for her to relax and throw a wider variety of pitches. One of the game two’s biggest offensive contributors was senior Shelby Gonzales, who drove in three of the team’s five runs, one of which came from a monster home run to left field in the sixth inning.
As the season winds down, Broyles has received more rest in between starts, a fact that she begrudgingly points to as another reason for Wednesday’s success.
“Unfortunately, I do not like to rest, but I can see that it did benefit me today,” Broyles said. “I felt fresh and ready to go so it kind of speaks for itself there.”
Staying afloat in the race for a spot in the conference tournament will be no small task for South Carolina, as the next two weeks will have the team face No. 25 Mississippi State on the road before they return home to take on No. 2 Florida.
With the trial by fire USC will face to end the season on the horizon, Smith is preaching a stay-the-course mentality to her team. She said Wednesday’s commanding victories will give her Gamecocks the confidence to compete.
“We’ve been saying the same thing all year,” Smith said. “Every game counts one, and it’s not the team with the most talent that wins, it’s the team that plays best on game day.”