Seniors embrace bench roles to aid players

Clifton Jones

Sac State has two seniors on an already young team who have spent most of the season on the bench. Both have adopted a backup role to some of the younger players. Although senior infielders Lauren Blair and Molly Smith are captains, Blair and Smith have combined to appear in only 27 games this season. 

Instead of starting like the two other seniors – third baseman Emily McCormick and center fielder Kelli Frye – Blair and Smith have used their leadership skills in other ways. However, after this season Blair and Smith will hang up their cleats and gloves to head into two areas of the working world.

In the 27 games combined both Blair and Smith have played in this season, both started 16 of those games. Their combined average in the games they appeared in is .166, scoring three times with two doubles as well as two home runs and seven RBIs.

“We wanted to play this season but this a team sport – we wanted what was best for our team,” said Blair. 

Smith did start in the first six games of the season before softball head coach Kathy Strahan started trying different players at first base.

Smith’s natural position is catcher, but she spent the first six games as the first baseman – which is one of the reasons why Strahan recruited her as senior in high school.

“I really was intrigued about the potential Molly had at the catcher position when I recruited her,” Strahan said. “Her ability to play catcher and her offense (are) what showed me how valuable she is.”

Smith’s senior season was cut short on March 23 against Northern Colorado when she tore her ACL and MCL diving back to second base while running. However, Smith’s role is not only missed but is vital to how well the Hornets do when on the road this season.

“Now that I am injured I can’t travel with the team so when the team travels, (they) tell me that the dugout was too quiet without me there,” Smith said. “It makes me happy that my role is the one that pumps everyone up before the game and during the game.”

Although Smith’s season was limited, she said she doesn’t let her injury prevent her from showing up as early as the other catchers and pitchers and helping the bullpen by sitting down on a ball bucket and catching for the pitchers.

“Molly continues to help with the young catchers on the team with her experience at the catching position,” Strahan said. “It’s incredible to see Molly still lead by example even with the injury to her knee.”

Smith said she comes to practice everyday because she cannot stand being away from her team for too long.

Even when Smith is  in the training room, she still leads by example to the injured freshman infielder Alexis Martinez.

“I have showed Alexis that no matter what role she has on the team, it is a vital part in how successful we are this season – it doesn’t matter how big or small the role is,” Smith said.

Blair said she accepted the possibility of not playing a number of significant innings, so she used her abilities to better her teammates.

“Although I wanted to start this year, I was more focused on pushing my team as hard as I can so my team can improve even more,” Blair said.

Strahan said Blair and Smith’s unselfishness in playing time this season is why they are great leaders on this team.

Blair said she can really push her teammates at certain positions to help improve their all-around play. Blair and freshman second baseman Kayla Papez have been competing all year at second base.

Blair said she pushes the team more and more everyday because she wants to see her teammates improve along with her. Blair has started eight of the last ten games in which she hit her only home runs of her career.

Strahan said Blair’s hard work is a big reason why her offensive output has increased this season.

“I have seen Lauren get stronger from last year. She has worked extremely hard in the weight room,” Strahan said.

Blair and Smith both know softball will not last long in their lives so they are already planned for their future. After this season Blair is debating either attending Sac State or Fresno State for her teaching credential.

Blair not only wants to be a teacher, but coach the upcoming youth softball players to play the game the right way. Blair has the option to go to grad school in Fresno, but her first choice is Sac State.

“After this season I am going to go to grad school to pursue my teacher credential so one day I may be able to teach and coach,” Blair said.

Smith wants to take her talents to New York in that she wants to use her apparel major in the fashion industry, but she also said she would not mind helping to coach high school softball with her dad.


Clifton can be reached on Twitter at @jonesSHsports