HARROGATE, TN - With the 2013 season in Lincoln Memorial University softball in the books, we caught up with first-year head coach Natalie Layden to discuss the Lady Railsplitters' resurgent campaign.
The Lady Railsplitters finished 30-22 overall this season with a 7-11 mark in South Atlantic Conference play, notching the first 30-win season for LMU softball since 2008 by making a 12-win improvement over their 2012 record of 18-28. The highlights of the year included a 5-3 win over 12th-ranked North Georgia and a 2-1 win over eventual SAC tournament champs Lenoir-Rhyne. The win over L-R snapped a 12-game losing streak to the Bears dating back to March 16, 2008.
The Lady Railsplitters also made a return to the South Atlantic Conference tournament, earning the No. 8 seed. After falling in a 2-1 heartbreaker to top-seeded Tusculum to open the tournament, Lincoln Memorial responded with a resounding 9-5 victory over Carson-Newman to eliminate the Eagles. LMU's tournament run and season were concluded with a 5-1 loss to Wingate on the next day.
Offensively, the Lady Railsplitters made a significant leap in production this season, as they finished ranked among the top three in the South Atlantic Conference in several important statistical categories. Lincoln Memorial capped the season ranked third in the league in runs scored (257), home runs (36), runs batted in (227), on base percentage (.366) and slugging percentage (.416), while ranking second in stolen bases (67) and walks (157).
All-SAC Second Team selection Brianna Mulkey led the way offensively for Lincoln Memorial, tallying a .357 average with a team-leading 65 hits, 40 runs and 34 stolen bases, which led the conference. Amanda Snow was also a force at the plate in her second season with the Lady Railsplitters, notching a .341 average with 12 home runs and 37 RBI. She slugged .674 and reached base at a .506 clip.
Both Mulkey and Snow will be returning to Lincoln Memorial's lineup next season, along with Kirstin Toole, Laura Taricano, Kelly Dreier and Danae Reed. Toole hit .306 this season with four home runs and a team-leading 12 doubles in her first season with Lincoln Memorial. Laura Taricano finished second on the team with 36 runs scored while adding six doubles and five home runs. South Atlantic Conference Championship All-Tournament Team honoree Danae Reed finished with a .313 batting mark in 134 at-bats this season. She compiled seven doubles, six home runs (three of which came in the SAC tournament) and 25 RBI. Kelly Dreier tallied five doubles and two triples with 11 stolen bases in 12 attempts.
In their final season with Lincoln Memorial, the two seniors, Sarah Walz and Cierra Mudd, made a huge impact on the Lady Railsplitters' turnaround. Walz started all 52 games this season with 46 hits, seven doubles, two home runs and 34 RBI to her credit. All told, she finished with batting clips of .299/.383/.382. Mudd started 51 of the 52 games this season, tallying 35 hits with five doubles, five home runs and 32 RBI.
In addition to the Lady Railsplitters' returners on the offensive side of the ball, LMU will benefit from the return of pitcher Samantha Smith next season. Smith was a workhorse on the mound for LMU this season, tossing 212.1 innings with a 2.90 earned run average and a 20-13 overall record. She notched 21 complete games with 133 strikeouts en route to being named the Female Co-Newcomer of the Year at the annual LMU Athletics Banquet.
The Lady Railsplitters' best stretch of softball came from February 14th to March 3rd, as they captured victories in 13 of their 15 games over that span. They added a seven-game winning streak from April 3rd to April 13th.