With nine freshman and only two seniors on the active roster to begin the season, the Appalachian State softball team knew they would need hefty contributions from their new additions.
While the team has continued to struggle this season as it did last year, two freshmen have stood out as potential stars for the Mountaineers’ future.
Freshman catcher Jenny Dodd and freshman outfielder Natalie Orcutt have made contributions, both batting and fielding, for Appalachian State this season.
Coming from Mocksville, North Carolina, Dodd has started as catcher for the Mountaineers in all 34 games this season, committing only one error. She’s third on the team with a fielding percentage of .993 and has also accumulated 122 putouts so far this year.
“I have had some success, but it has been a lot of hard work,” Dodd said. “I’ve always been an OK catcher, but there was a lot of stuff mechanically that you don’t think about whenever you’re playing high school and travel ball. You’ve got to be on your toes all the time because you’re in every single pitch. You’re the only person that can see the whole field at all times.”
Dodd is a weapon for Appalachian State, not only when she’s behind the plate, but also when she is at it. Second on the team in RBIs with 31, she has also hit six home runs and currently hits in the coveted third spot in the batting lineup.
“A big part of that would be the mental part of the game,” Dodd said. “Before I got to App, whenever you go up to bat you’re like ‘I want to hit the ball really hard,’ but you don’t really think about the strategic part. Being in college, the game is so much more advanced. You can’t just go up there and hack. You have to go up there with a plan. More mental preparation.”
Mountaineer head coach Janice Savage called Dodd a “pleasant surprise,” based on all that the team has asked her to do as a freshman.
“I challenged Jenny really hard early and got on her harder than what I usually would for a freshman, because I wanted her to understand the important role she was gonna have for us behind the plate,” Savage said. “That really helped push her offensively as well to be in a better mental state to handle the three hole. It’s tough for a freshman. It’s tough for a sophomore to learn. So she’s done a great job of understanding that and wanting and accepting that role.”
Orcutt, in her first year from Senoia, Georgia, has started all but two games this season and has continued to improve.
The current leadoff batter for the Mountaineers, Orcutt has a team-high batting average of .356. What is more impressive is her ability to get on base. Her .500 on base percentage is by far the best on the team, and she also leads the team in walks as well, with 25.
“I love being the leadoff,” Orcutt said. “That’s what, when I came here, my major goal was. It does mean a lot because [coach Savage is] putting a lot of trust in me, because I haven’t played in the Sun Belt before. On base percentage, that’s most important. Getting on. It sets the tone. We know we’re gonna score then.”
Orcutt is also second on the team in hits with 32, with four of those being doubles, 12 RBI’s and three home runs to finish filling out the stat sheet.
When Orcutt gets on base, whether it be from a hit or by a walk, she often finds a way to score, leading the team with 21 runs.
“I was really scared in the beginning to run against Sun Belt pitchers,” Orcutt said. “I’ve definitely relaxed, and I trust myself that I’m fast. Every single pitch I try to get that extra base.”
Savage said that while at first Orcutt was afraid to make a mistake, she has now become a more confident player.
“Natalie has a no fear swing, and that’s what it takes to be the leadoff,” Savage said. “You’re the one that’s out there that has to figure it out for everybody else. She’s done a great job of understanding that role and being the best at that role she possibly can be.”
However, there is still room for Orcutt to improve. At the plate, she has been a stat-stuffer for the Mountaineers, but, in the field, she is has accumulated ten errors, second-highest on the team.
While these stats do explain some of the impact that the freshmen, particularly Orcutt and Dodd, have had on this season for the Mountaineers, it takes more to truly grasp their potential.
“Our freshman have grown a ton,” Savage said. “Not only in terms of athletic ability, in the weight room and in the classroom, but as people. Our freshmen have come a long way, obviously athletically your starting to see a difference, but as people and learning what college Division I softball is all about and being a part of a team and being selfless. The freshmen have done the best job this year, of any group that I’ve ever had, of learning to make that transition.”
Story by: Colin Tate, sports reporter
Photos by: Lee Sanderlin, sports editor