|Furman's Lindsey Bert, the SoCon Softball Pitcher of the Year, leads the|
country in strikeouts with 317 this season. Photo courtesy of Furman.
The Furman softball team begins its quest for a Southern Conference Tournament championship Wednesday when the Paladins face ETSU at 3 p.m. in Greensboro, N.C. As the No. 3 seed, Furman may not be widely considered the team to beat, but the Paladins definitely have the pitcher to beat.
With an NCAA-best 317 strikeouts this season, Furman's Lindsey Bert is the SoCon Pitcher of the Year for the second year in a row. Bert, a senior from Tallahassee, Fla., has earned All-SoCon honors each of her four years including three first-team selections. She collected five SoCon Player of the Week awards this season, including the final three, giving her a SoCon-record 12 in her career.
"With some of the things we've done and the competitive nature with which we ran practices and prepared ourselves for this year, I think she's pitching with that demeanor and just a little more nasty," Furman coach Wally King said. "She's really coming at people. It's amazing sometimes to watch how many swings and misses she gets. I've been around for a long time and there have been very few pitchers I've seen get as many as she does.
"She's just taken that leadership role this year of putting us on her shoulders and saying 'get me two or three runs and we're good.' "
Bert earned Pitcher of the Year in 2017 by going 18-12 with a 2.10 ERA and 197 strikeouts in 196 2/3 innings. She soared past those numbers with eye-popping ones this season, shattering Furman single-season records along the way. Her 25 wins, 12 shutouts and 317 strikeouts are all new Paladin records. Bert also established new school career records with 85 wins, 900 2/3 innings pitched, 30 shutouts and 879 strikeouts.
"With the coaching change and everything, I thought last year would be really hard to beat," Bert said. "Coach King has been great. If you just sit down and talk ball with him, he can do it for hours. He just has so much knowledge of the game in every aspect.
"I've been determined to be better because we haven't done what we've wanted to do all my four years, which is win the (SoCon) tournament. My motivation was to work as hard as possible because it's my last year and my teammates have definitely pushed me to be better.
Only one other player in the country has more than 286 strikeouts this season - Evansville's Morgan Florey with 303. No other SoCon player had more than 159. Bert's tied for the NCAA lead in shutouts, which also ties for the SoCon single-season mark. She enters the SoCon Tournament 14 strikeouts shy of the league's single season record of 331, set by Chattanooga's Lacey Swarthout in 2004.
In addition to leading the SoCon in wins and strikeouts, Bert also led in innings pitched (230) and even topped the league in saves (4). Her 1.58 ERA and .177 opposing batting average each ranked second in the SoCon. In SoCon play this year, Bert went 8-3 with a 1.17 ERA and 128 strikeouts in 71 2/3 innings.
"I can thank (former coach) Kyle Jamieson for a big part of my success the past four years. Without him, I would not be where I am as a player. We put in a ton of hours on the field my freshman year," Bert said. "He worked so hard with me on my rise ball, which is my best pitch. That's solely why I get as many strikeouts as I do."
Bert was one of five Paladins who earned All-SoCon honors this week. Second baseman Casey Bigham and pitcher/designated player Emily DeMonte each made the first team, while first baseman AnnaRose Borrelli and third baseman Hannah Reynolds were second-team selections.
Bigham, the 2017 SoCon Freshman of the Year, hit .353 and had a .560 on-base percentage. Bigham, who committed just one error last season, fielded at a .954 clip this year. DeMonte went 13-3 with a 3.09 ERA in 18 appearances this season, while batting .299 with four home runs and 13 RBIs.
Borrelli, a senior, batted .289 with 12 home runs and 41 RBIs. She belted walk-off homers in victories over NCAA RPI No. 32 Wichita State and ETSU. Borrelli is Furman's all-time home run leader with 33 in her career. Reynolds hit .273 with 10 homers and 27 RBIs and was a big force in SoCon play. The senior had a .574 slugging percentage in league play with five home runs, including a walk-off shot against ETSU.
Those kind of efforts helped the Paladins go 38-13 overall and 10-6 in SoCon play in King's first season as head coach. Furman established a school record with a 27-3 mark at home this season.
"The transition (of a coaching change) hasn't been difficult. That senior group and their leadership really made it easy. They helped buy in with everything that was kind of new that I was bringing," King said. "The team did a great job of acclimating to the differences and continuing to do well at the things they had in the past. It was really just building on what their strengths are and finding our identity as a team."
Furman won seven of its final nine games, including a series win at second-place Mercer over the weekend, to take momentum into SoCon Tournament. The Paladins will be looking to start off on the right foot Wednesday after losing each of the past three SoCon Tournament openers.
While it's possible to reach the championship game after losing the tournament opener - as Furman did in 2016, it's a much tougher road. Staying in the winner's bracket and playing one game a day would be ideal for a team with a pitcher like Bert.
"For me personally, I've thrown a lot of innings and I expect to throw as much as I possibly can this week but if we win ... I don't have to throw two games in one day," Bert said. "That would be a huge help for me."
"Last year (as the No. 2 seed), we lost two and were the first team out and that left a bitter taste in our mouth. We've been working super hard and this is what we've worked so hard for all year. With seven seniors, I think our leadership is going to be huge."