Red Hawks open inaugural softball season on Monday

Red Hawks open inaugural softball season on Monday

HICKORY, N.C. — The Catawba Valley Community College Athletic department ushers in a new era on Monday with its first-ever softball games.

The Red Hawks open their inaugural softball season on Monday with a doubleheader against the Belmont Abbey JV team at the Highland Recreation Center fields, which will serve as CVCC's home venue this spring.

Catawba Valley head coach Josh Bumgarner, who was hired to lead the program on March 22, 2019, has a ton of emotions heading into his program's premiere contest.

"There is some excitement. There are some nerves. There's a little bit of everything, but definitely some excitement," he said. "I can tell that I'm getting more amped up where as I was a little more laid back and relaxed in the fall and in a teaching mode. My competitive juices are starting to boil."

The Red Hawks roster features 14 players, including the program's first-ever signees in former Alexander Central standouts Chesney Millsaps and Kelsea Dejarnette and West Iredell product Katelyn McClure.

Bumgarner believes Millsaps and McClure along with transfers Payton Goble and Zoe Dalton — all of whom are pitchers — will be key in CVCC's softball success this spring both on the mound and at the plate.

"The thing about those four is they aren't just strong pitchers, but they are strong hitters," Bumgarner said. "If they have good years all the way around, we are going to be tough to beat and are going to have a good year. They've really looked good so far this spring."

Bumgarner also expects infielder Paige Norton and third baseman Kelsea Dejarnette to play key roles for the Red Hawks this spring on the diamond.

"We've got athletes like Paige in the middle of the field, and moving Kelsea Dejarnette from outfield to anchor third base has been huge for us," he said. "We've got some strong, smart quality players in a lot of positions. They can play multiple positions. That's good as well."

Bumgarner has been impressed with his team's hitting ability and pitching during the fall and the preseason, and he credits assistant coaches and former prep and collegiate standouts Mia Blochaviak (Alexander Central/Erskine College) and Ty Triplett (Draughn/Lenoir-Rhyne) with helping in those areas.

"I like our power," he said. "We've really been hitting the ball well in practice. We've had some extra pop on it. Coach Mia has done a great job with that. Coach Ty has got our pitchers where they need to be as well. We also have the ability to play some 'small ball' if we need to. That's something we had in the fall that really worked for us. We were able to bunt, move people around and put some pressure on the defense."

Only one of the Red Hawks' players has collegiate playing experience — Goble, a Bunker Hill High School product who played last season at Surry Community College.

That lack of playing time is one of Bumgarner's biggest concerns heading into the season.

"We are basically going into the season with 13 freshman with one player having transferred in and played last year," he said. "We've got one player with some experience. The rest are brand new. That part of it is just them getting used to the college level, the college game and the college speed of the game. That's something we're going to have to adjust to on the fly."

That young Red Hawks team will be tested early.

After playing its first two doubleheaders at home, Catawba Valley plays a stretch of 10 games in five days from Feb. 13 through 17.

Four of those contests are on the road during an appearance in the Sheilah R. Cotten Invitational at Louisburg College on Feb. 15 and 16.

"We're going to see some quality opponents in those games, especially at Louisburg," Bumgarner said of the early 10-game stretch. "Louisburg is bringing in some big-time schools for their round-robin event. We're anxious to see how we hold up there, but also understand too that it's early in the season. We're hoping to be a different team in April and May compared to what we are in February."

Another difficult challenge the Red Hawks will face in its first softball season is playing no games during the month of March — something Bumgarner believes will end up being a benefit for his group.

"I don't know how it happened, but it worked out that way," Bumgarner said of being on the road for a month. "I'm more concerned with our first road trip than I am the month of March. What I do like about March is that we knock out all of those road trips in one fell swoop. We get that last month all at home except for one doubleheader. We get to rest up and get sleep in our own bed for a month going into the postseason. I really feel like that might pay off and be a benefit to us at the end of the season."

As for his goals and expectations heading into the first-ever softball season at Catawba Valley Community College, Bumgarner believes he has a team that can compete in Region 10 and make a run at getting to the NJCAA Division II National tournament, which is being held this year at Traceway Park in Clinton, Mississippi.

"We've said from the very beginning that our goal is to get to Clinton and make it to nationals," he said. "We feel like we are going to be in the mix competing as one of the top-four teams in the conference. That's our goal and that's where we want to be. If you are in that number then you've got a shot to take the whole thing in the end. Our goal is to come out of the gate swinging and not be your stereotypical first-year program here to take lumps. We feel like we've got talent."

Bumgarner believes that goal will be achieved by applying one simple characteristic to his players — hard work — and he uses the words of former University of Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt to help echo that sentiment.

"Summit used to say 'here's how I'm going to beat you. I'm going to outwork you,'" he said. "That's kind of our mentality. The team that works the hardest and prepares the best is going to have an advantage going into the game. We're going to try to outwork everybody."