AC Athletics/Gary Stallard
LUFKIN, TX (Press Release)- The numbers are eye-popping, to say the least.
Angelina College’s Lady Roadrunners, already known for their propensity to bash softballs, in 2017 shattered the team record for home runs in a season. The old record, set last year, was 76.
Heading into this week’s regional tournament, the Lady ‘Runners have launched 99 balls – ranked third in the nation – over the fences.
That’s just one record smacked into the wind. There have been others.
Last weekend at Northeast Texas College, Kali Holcomb homered twice, giving her 18 for the season – including five grand slams – and breaking the previous record teammate Taylor Davis set just last year. Davis, by the way, has 12 homers this year, meaning she’ll leave the college as the all-time career leader in that category.
“I was excited for Kali,” Davis said. “My goal was to set the all-time record, and I did that, so I’m happy.”
On the same day, Jordan Kisselburg rocked her 17th to tie the record, only to see Holcomb pass her just hours later.
“Every time I hit a homer, Kali thinks she has to hit one right after,” Kisselburg laughed. “Most of the time, if I hit one, she hits two.”
In all, 12 Lady Roadrunners performed home run trots during the season. Six reached double figures in dingers: Holcomb, Davis, Jordan Kisselburg, Kaylee Parker, Lynsey Mitchell and Lauren Garza. Mitchell hit five of her homers and drove in 17 runs in a single doubleheader, leading to her landing in the “Faces in the Crowd” section of Sports Illustrated in March. Nine players had slugging percentages higher than .500. Holcomb (71 RBI), Parker (63 RBI), Garza (60 RBI) and Kisselburg (58 RBI) are the top four run producers in all of Region XIV.
The three team leaders in the homer category – Holcomb (18 homers), Kisselburg (17 homers) and Parker (16 homers) – admit this year’s power surge, while a result of a lot of work, nevertheless took them by surprise. Holcomb, for example, hit just two in her freshman season at AC.
“I learned to be more selective, and I changed some things with my stance and approach,” Holcomb said. “I added a leg kick this year, whereas last year I had more of a normal stance. I spent more time in the weight room than I have previously, but most of what changed for me came from pitch selection and focusing more on my swing.
“My approach last year was thinking I could hit any pitch they threw me. I didn’t execute on the good pitches I saw, and I got out on the bad ones I chased. This year, I figured out which ones to leave alone.”
Kisselburg and Parker are transfers who will leave after just one season as Lady Roadrunners. They both agreed the atmosphere at AC played a large role in their success at the plate.
“It’s having more people behind me who believe in me,” Kisselburg said. “Here, I knew I was going to be okay every time I stepped in the batter’s box. I had people telling me the whole way, ‘Just believe in yourself and focus on the ball.’ It helped me figure out how to stay within myself. I didn’t have to do anything more than what I could do. I knew I could just do my best, and everything was going to be fine.
“Having that many people believing in me just feeds me in a very positive way. Bam’s (Miranda Wiggins) mom sits behind the plate and asks me every single time I step into the box, ‘Where are you going to hit it next?’ It’s never about ‘if’ I can do something. If I hit it, or even if I battle through an at-bat and end up making an out, I’m never worried about trying to do anything more than I personally can do at that point and at that time. They all believe in us, and we believe in each other.”
Parker, the Hudson product who spent a year playing JUCO softball in Florida, said there was just a different feeling about playing in front of familiar faces.
"I didn’t hit a single homer in my freshman year of college,” Parker said. “It helped being back in my home town, knowing the people in the stands were there for me and believe in me. It makes the game much easier."
Having support is great, but there had to be a lot of work thrown into the mix.
“We spend so much more time in the batting cage here than anywhere else I’ve ever seen,” Parker said. “We take more than a thousand cuts per week, and it’s not just getting in there and swinging. It’s working on bat control, pitch selection, timing – all the things we need just to be able to barrel up when we make contact.”
Head coach Mark Mattson said this group of players has responded to his annual challenges in a big way. The next one, along with winning the regional tournament, is to hit No. 100.
“They love having things to shoot for,” Mattson said. “We tell our teams at the beginning of every season, ‘Here’s what last year’s team did. Can you match it or surpass it?’
“These girls love a challenge, so going into the tournament, they still have a goal of hitting that 100th bomb. While it’s not a priority, it’s something to add a little excitement.”
While the Mattson – Mark and associate head coach/wife Barbi – approach to hitting has never wavered (“You’re in scoring position when you step into the box”), getting that many players to experience success in the same season required both faith and effort.
“You’ve got to give our coaching staff a lot of credit,” Mattson said. “It’s a combination of all three of us working on different aspects together, and it works for the players. We added Macho (Steven Macharro), who brought in another dynamic to what we do.
“Those players have always believed in what they can do, but once they get going, it’s even better. Kali’s thing was to take all the work she’d been doing and get on an early roll. Those first five, six, seven homers showed her results from all her efforts, and there was just no way she couldn’t keep going.”
As for which player is going to notch No. 100, there seems to be a debate. Kisselburg is already calling dibs on it, especially since she missed it by mere inches last Saturday.
“I thought I had it,” Kisselburg said. “Right after Kali hit her second one (the record breaker) that day, I hit a ball deep that hit right on top of the fence and bounced back into the field.
“No doubt. No. 100 has to be mine.”
The Lady Roadrunners open the regional tournament against San Jacinto College at 10 a.m. on Saturday.