Sydney Bates Looks To Lead Purdue Into Uncharted Territory
Sydney Bates says her love for softball developed on its own. But it sure didn’t hurt to have two very successful coaches in her family.
Bates’ mother coached at McArthur High School in Hollywood, Fla., and her aunt coached for a long time in nearby Pembroke Pines. So while Bates first discovered the sport independently of her family, she certainly didn’t have to look far for support.
“My mom has been there helping me out along the way,” Bates told Softball America. “But (it was) mostly me learning through experience.”
After starring at Western High School in Davie, Fla., Bates enrolled at Florida State, one of the college game's foremost powers. But after not seeing the field in her first year with the Seminoles, she left the warm weather of the Sunshine State, hoping to find a bigger role at Purdue.
Now a redshirt junior, Bates has improved every season since arriving in West Lafayette, Ind. — and so have the Boilermakers. As a redshirt freshman in 2018, she was 8-19 with a 4.76 ERA for a team that finished 16-40. But toward the end of that season, there were signs Bates was beginning to turn a corner.
With Purdue’s other main pitcher, Kaitlynn Moody, unavailable, Bates threw every pitch of the Boilermakers’ final regular-season series at Iowa. In 19 innings across three games, she allowed just one run as Purdue swept the Hawkeyes, earning a spot in the Big Ten Tournament.
Both Bates and her team took big steps forward in 2019. Against an admittedly soft schedule, the Boilermakers raced to a 24-10 start, with Bates supplanting Moody as Purdue’s top starter. While the Boilermakers struggled against the top half of the Big Ten — they were swept by Minnesota, Northwestern and Wisconsin — their strong non-conference season earned them a spot in the National Invitational Softball Championship, softball’s equivalent of the NIT in basketball.
Coach Boo De Oliveira said the NISC experience is fueling Purdue in 2020.
“Making the NISC was a big step forward for our program,” De Oliveira said. “The next big step is making postseason. Our team has the mindset that they want to make our program a program where people come for softball. They want to come here to be on a competitive softball team that’s competing for a national championship.”
That NISC run came with nine freshmen on the roster, many of whom played key roles. Now, as sophomores, they’re helping to continue the upward trajectory of the program.
They’re doing so alongside Bates, who is cementing herself as one of the Big Ten’s best pitchers. That’s saying a lot — most teams in the conference have an elite No. 1 starter — but the numbers so far back it up. She has compiled a 1.94 ERA, while pitching the second-most innings in the Big Ten. The Boilermakers are 14-6 through four weekends of play.
Bates added a backdoor curveball to her repertoire during her sophomore season, which De Oliveira credited for a significant portion of her growth.
“She has really stepped up, and she’s pitching for punchouts,” De Oliveira said. “She’s throwing the ball with the intention of striking batters out. She’s mixing different quadrants, she’s mixing different speeds and she’s pitching very mature this season.”
But in the Boilermakers’ signature win, a 1-0 shutout of North Carolina on Feb. 22, Bates went away from pitching for strikeouts. She was nonetheless effective, punching out just three but getting 10 outs on the ground. Bates allowed just four hits and did not walk a batter, and Purdue pushed across a late run to pull out the victory.
“Going into that game, there was a lot of pressure,” Bates said. “They had a lot of lefty slappers, so it was mostly about pitching in a certain way to get the outs instead of pitching to strike everyone out. Just allowing them to put the ball in play and letting our defense do the work. It was a team win.”
The Boilermakers will be challenged more once conference play rolls around, starting with a road series against Michigan in two weeks. But Bates and De Oliveira are both confident Purdue can move into the top half of the standings and contend for a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009.
“We have the mindset this year that we are a postseason team,” De Oliveira said. “We’ve had that mindset since the start, but we have the roster to back it up, and if we play the way we know we’re capable of playing, we should be in.”