Kentucky Relies On Versatility To Sustain Softball Success
At the University of Kentucky, head softball coach Rachel Lawson does not only recruit softball players, she recruits athletes.
Lawson's Kentucky program is one where athletes are capable of playing multiple positions, and that includes the pitchers. Fans can expect to see two or even three players in the batting order driving in runs, defending in the field and also having the ability to pitch for the Wildcats.
Kentucky junior Miranda Stoddard is one of them.
Stoddard, a utility player from Anaheim, Calif., plays third base part time for the Wildcats, and when she is not at the hot corner, she is pitching to elite college softball hitters. This season, Stoddard leads Kentucky with 46.2 innings pitched and a 5-3 record. She also currently has five home runs and 22 RBIs on the year.
Stoddard was originally drawn to Kentucky because she was able to play multiple positions and use her versatility to help the Wildcats win games.
“I am a pitcher, but also a third baseman, and there are not a lot of softball programs or coaches that will allow their pitchers to play other positions, or hit in the lineup, so that was a big draw for me in choosing the right place to play softball,” said Stoddard. “I didn’t want to give up that ability when coming to college, so that is huge that I get to pursue all aspects of the game at Kentucky.”
Lawson places an emphasis on recruiting the best individuals on a softball field, regardless of the position they play, which often results in a higher number of dual-threat players at Kentucky than at other schools around the country.
“If two pitchers are equally talented, we look for the best athlete between them,” Lawson said. “When you are a great athlete, you can do so many things that set you apart from other players.”
Lawson also emphasizes that while pitching staffs are getting bigger across the country, and the maximum number of scholarships a Division I softball program can possess remains steady at 12, it is still important to her to recruit the most versatile individuals on the field.
“You get a lot of bang for your buck if you are recruiting a person who is giving you great innings on the mound, but when they are not pitching, they can go play in the field or swing the bat,” Lawson added. “As pitching staffs grow bigger, the amount of dual-threat players is also going to continue to grow as well.”
Having been a pitcher and a hitter since she was eight years old, Stoddard has been asked one question multiple times throughout her softball career: Are you a hitter who pitches, or a pitcher who hits?
“I like to say that I am an athlete,” Stoddard said. “I don't see why I should categorize myself, and athlete is the most fitting way to describe myself as a softball player.”
Stoddard hopes the versatility of Kentucky's pitching staff can help the Wildcats, who are currently ranked No. 13 in Softball America's Top 25, continue to improve and make a run at the Women's College World Series this year.
“Iron sharpens iron, and as we keep playing these talented teams, we want to keep improving and competing,” Stoddard stated. “We’re going for a national championship, so hopefully you will see us in the Women's College World Series this year.”