The College of Southern Maryland softball team gets their 2020 season underway on Sunday, March 1, when they host Richard Bland College in La Plata for a doubleheader.
Head coach Becca Collins said her main goal for this season is to get CSM's record back to .500 or better, a mark that hasn't been reached since 2016-17. The Hawks finished with a 12-13 record last year.
Clark started 15 games for CSM in the circle last year. She picked up four wins and threw eight complete games. Over 73.2 innings pitched, she accumulated 61 strikeouts, a 5.80 K/7 rate, and a 5.61 ERA.
"Attitude wise, she's there, she's ready," Collins said of Clark. "She's done everything she needs to prepare for it to be completely honest."
Polk, who signed to play at Concord University after this season, posted a .418/.453/.567 slash line in 2019. In her 67 at bats, she only struck out six times. She also drove in 15 runs and scored 19.
Collins noted the tremendous progress she saw in Polk's defense during scrimmages this past fall. After committing 10 errors over 23 games last season, Collins said her shortstop made only one all fall when CSM played more than a dozen games.
"Rachel Polk's our leader," Collins said. "She brings a lot to the team dynamically, attitude wise. She does everything she needs to do on and off the field. She's a great leader, role model for the young girls coming in. She's there for them in every aspect from a holistic standpoint."
Culbert finished last season with a slash line of .391/.500/.563. She hit two home runs and collected 19 RBIs, and only struck out three times in her 64 at bats. She also stole 10 bases, which was fourth-most among Maryland JUCO players last year.
Collins said Culbert will patrol center field a majority of the time and will be CSM's leadoff batter. "She does an excellent job reading pitches. She works the count, she always takes it deep. She puts the bat on the ball. She's going to be huge."
If Polk and Culbert can come close to replicating their low strikeout numbers from 2019, and pass that plate discipline on to the newcomers in the Hawks lineup, CSM may be able to accomplish another of Collins' goals for 2020 - end the year with fewer than 100 strikeouts. Last year, CSM batters struck out 117 times, which Collins said may have been the difference in the Hawks reaching or surpassing the .500 mark.
"We did a lot of those strikeouts that last few games with runners in scoring position," Collins said. "So I think we cut our strikeout numbers down, you put the ball in play a lot more, you get that .500 mark. I'm big on offense, so the less the strikeouts, that .500 mark is going to be easy to reach."
Ruble, who won multiple softball state championships while at La Plata High School, played volleyball at Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, Colo., during the fall 2019 semester and at Delaware State University in the fall of 2018. Collins said she "could easily go anywhere for softball if she wanted. She's a great player. She just brings that elite level knowledge that we necessarily didn't have before."
Brooks, from Leonardtown High School, will primarily play third base, and Collins is expecting her to contribute heavily on offense as well. "She's going to be a big bat. She's great with runners in scoring position. She brings a great attitude, she works hard. She wants to be here. She's a great kid so I'm excited to have her. She's going to hold third base down."
Davis, from Gwynn Park High School, will see playing time in the outfield and at first base. "She played first for us this fall and she's going to end up with some time in the outfield, and she flat out said, 'Whatever the team needs me to do, I'm there for that,'" Collins said. "We need that, that selflessness." Collins will also be looking for Davis to step more into a leadership role since she will have the opportunity to come back next year and lead the next freshman class.
"They're great kids," Collins said. "They know softball, they've been around the game for a long time. Same thing as Rachel almost, doing everything they need to do in the classroom and on the field … to make sure they're fully present for practice, games, whatever it is we do, so they're going to be huge."
One area where Collins would still like to see improvement from her team is their on-field communication.
"We're very quiet," Collins said. "We're loud off the field, quiet on the field. So we need to let each other know where we have to throw the ball ... and kind of take the coaches out of it, because in practice we're like, 'Four! Four! Four!' Well in a game, it's not us, it's you guys. So putting them in that situation is really important."
The Hawks will have their first opportunity to put everything together on Sunday, and Collins thinks her team is ready. "They want to do whatever it takes to win."