BREVARD, N.C. – First-year Brevard College head softball coach Bob Lowe fashions himself as an architect, and he can’t wait to meet the challenge of ushering in a new era of Tornados’ softball head on.
“Our goal here is to build a program,” said Lowe eight days before his team’s scheduled season opener at 2015 Conference Carolinas Tournament champion Limestone. “Last year is irrelevant. We’re going to get better every inning. Those types of gains can’t be measured with wins and losses. So much of the game is mental preparation, and that type of improvement isn’t dictated by physical ability.”
Fortunately for Lowe, he has one of the South Atlantic Conference’s most physically gifted athletes at his disposal. Senior pitcher Jamie Hrobak, who narrowly missed being named preseason all-conference after an honorable mention nod after the 2015 season, has caught Lowe’s attention. “She’s capable and very determined. She’s someone who’s been there and knows how to win.”
Hrobak gives the team a chance to win with every outing, appearing in all but five of Brevard’s games last season and racking up 153 strikeouts in 142.1 innings of work. She won eight games and sported a 2.95 ERA, winning league Pitcher of the Week honors twice. Her 2015 exploits included picking up a win and a save in the same doubleheader, striking out 15 batters in a single game, and facing 26 consecutive batters without recording a hit.
Joining Hrobak in the circle this season will be Ricki Kuhn, a freshman right-hander from Fred T. Foard High School in Newton. “Ricki can learn a lot this year,” said Lowe, who specialized in developing pitching talent in an assistant coaching stint at Piedmont College after four successful years as the head coach at Sauk Valley Community College. “She’s got a good skill set. We’ll have those two carry the load, and they’re both very capable.
“My philosophy is to have both pitchers always ready to come into a game, and we’ll be prepared to switch multiple times in a half-inning if that’s what it takes to get the matchups we want.”
Kinny Davis will be the batterymate to Hrobak and Kuhn in her second season as the team’s primary catcher. “Kinny has some great natural skill sets,” Lowe observed, “and some areas where she can still get better. What I love about Kinny is that she’s like a sponge. She asks all the right questions and you can tell she wants to continue improving.”
Senior shortstop Kinsey Parrish is expected to anchor the infield defense after starting 82 games at the position over the last two seasons. The sure-handed South Carolinian nearly cut her errors in half from 2014 to 2015. She also made a significant impact at the plate, leading last year’s team with a .529 slugging percentage and five home runs and boasting the second-highest batting average among returners.
With no clear starter at the other infield positions, Lowe expects to use the 26 nonconference games on his schedule prior to the league opener at Catawba on March 19 to find the role best suited for each player. “At the beginning of the season,” he said, “we’re more interested in discovering who we are as a team and finding our strengths and weaknesses. We’ve got to focus on what we as a team do on every pitch. We’re playing ourselves. If we do what we need to do, the wins will take care of themselves.”
Lowe has been impressed with his outfield defense in fall practice. “That unit has nice speed and is able to read the ball really well. [Assistant coach] Cali [Batholomew] and I feel really good about the options we have out there.
“We’re in great shape physically. If we can all figure out the mental side of playing defense, we have a chance to be pretty good.”
Lowe and Bartholomew have identified the offense as Brevard’s biggest area for improvement after the Tornados finished last season hitting .249 and slugging .332, ranking in the bottom two of the league in both categories. “We’ve been working hard on improving at the plate and plan to continue working on that aspect of our game. Much like the defense, we feel like having the right plate approach is a mindset, with pitch selection the most important aspect.”
After playing just eight home games and 36 total contests last season due to a series of weather-related cancellations, Lowe and Bartholomew have crafted a 56-game slate in 2016 that provides ample opportunities for improvement. “It’s very rare that we play games on back-to-back days,” Lowe observed. “We’re spaced out enough during the week to allow us to work on things between games. It should allow us to improve as the season goes on.”
Brevard carries a small roster, with only 12 players slated to begin the season on Saturday. But in Lowe’s estimation, the small numbers serve to enhance his team’s cohesiveness.
“These girls, they really care about each other. They’ve got great chemistry. Cali and I hope it will carry over into tough times. How well it does will determine the success of our team.”
The Tornados open the season with a doubleheader in Gaffney, South Carolina against Limestone on Saturday afternoon. First pitch of the twinbill is scheduled for 1 p.m.