NEW LONDON, Conn.-The Coast Guard softball team headed into the 2014 season following the loss (due to graduation) of an All-American for the third straight season but despite that, sit in the capable hands of two-time All-New England catcher Jessie Richardson. After a 22-17 campaign a year ago with two freshmen pitchers, following the graduation of four-time All-American Hayley Feindel, optimism is running high around the Coast Guard program.
Numbers, while more than impressive, do not begin to speak of the impact Richardson has had on the Bears' program the last two years. Though she is quick to deflect credit to her coaching staff and former cadet-athletes, the simple truth remains that Richardson is one of the best hitters in New England and one of the few capable of calling a game from behind the plate.
In traditional softball circles, pitching coaches tend to hold dominion over pitch selection as catchers are not typically trusted to call pitches until they've proven themselves over the course of an entire career.
Richardson's game-savvy and ability to absorb information from situations have made her into arguably the top Division III catcher in the country. The left-hander with the smooth swing has already positioned herself as one of the top three hitters in Coast Guard history but making it all the more impressive is that until relatively recently she was a right-handed hitter. Growing up she was a solid hitter but in her words she, "definitely wasn't the best," and her journey to become one of the top players in New England took some unexpected turns. While she attributes much of her success to "practice, hard work, and more practice," she also appreciates the suggestions of former travel ball coach JT D'Amico. "I made the transition to the left side of the plate the summer after my freshman season of high school softball after coach D'Amico made the suggestion. He mentioned I should try it out, and once I did it came pretty naturally, and then I made the switch. It was like starting over with a clean slate and no bad habits.
Richardson had already tallied 120 hits in just two seasons headed into the season and has a very good chance to become just the third Coast Guard player to top the 200-hit plateau. Currently the only members of that exclusive club are former All-Americans Amanda Frederick (224) and Holli Bastinck (209). She currently owns a .435 career batting average and her 50 career RBI currently put her on pace to become just the sixth player to eclipse 100 while she's also on pace to join Susie Van der Veer and Frederick with 40 or more doubles for her career.
Richardson is as excited for this season as she has been with any year in the past, saying, "after two years on the team I have experience with our coaching staff and the other teams in our conference to know what the team needs to do to be successful." The team is very young but possesses a lot of potential both offensively and defensively. "Every year the team sets goals," says Richardson, and this year is no different as she adds, "one of our major team goals this season is to finish in the top three of the NEWMAC for the regular season. We also want to improve our team fielding percentage." Coast Guard fielded .938 last year but with eight starters back that figure is likely to increase and could be crucial to the success of the club this season.
When talking about what is needed to lead a successful pitching staff, Richardson cites communication as the primary key. "The key to an effective pitching staff is communication. Softball, and especially pitching, is very mental. All of the pitchers and catchers need to be on the same page with our game strategy and with what is working and what isn't. Each pitcher is different and has her own strengths and weaknesses. This year, the pitching staff is going to have to work together as a team. It helps that I have had 2 years with the coaches and in the NEWMACs so I have an idea of what pitches are going to work and how to call a game to be effective."
She came into a team in the midst of the greatest four-year run in Coast Guard team sports' history – four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances including two second place and two third place finishes at Regionals – with the challenge of replacing All-American Amanda Frederick. When asked to talk about what it was like to come into the Academy and catch for the greatest Division III pitcher in recent memory and how All-American Hayley Feindel helped in her development, Richardson couldn't say enough great things about that experience:
"I couldn't wait for softball to start my freshman year. I knew we had the potential for a great season, and that I had big shoes to fill with the graduation of Amanda Frederick and catching for Hayley Feindel. But I was excited to get back to the sport that I love and have an outlet to all the military obligations and schoolwork that had been filling my time. Hayley Feindel was an integral part of my transition on to the team. She set the tone every practice we threw together with her work ethic. We worked really well together both in practice and during the games. She definitely took me under her wing both in softball and at school and helped me have a great experience my freshman year. We still talk regularly about the team and about her experiences in the fleet. "
It was her freshman year that has been the highlight of her Academy athletic experiences so far and in particular the post-season from that year. Following a mid-season injury to Feindel, Coast Guard struggled in league play, but eventually earned the number six seed in the conference tournament, defeating Babson twice in elimination games after losing to them earlier in the tournament before going on to a third place finish at the NCAA Regional. "We all came together to play as a team, and it was like magic. It has always been a dream of mine to make it to the post season of a college season, and was just as awesome as I had imagined it being."
This season, Richardson is once again getting it done in the batter's box as well as defensively where she's logged time at catcher, second base, and in left field in just 14 games played. As the regular season nears the midway point Richardson leads Coast Guard in virtually every offensive category and ranks highly in many in the NEWMAC. She currently leads the NEWMAC in batting average (.568), on-base-percentage (.577), sac flies (3), and defensively with five runners caught stealing. She also ranks in the top ten in hits (fifth, 25), doubles (ninth, 6), triples (third, 2), RBI (third, 20), total bases (seventh, 35), stolen bases (fifth, 6), and slugging percentage (second, .795).
In addition to the numbers she was named the NFCA Division III National Player of the Week on March 19th after a week in which she posted an eye-popping .720 batting average. A release can be found here.
Coast Guard currently sits at 7-9 (0-2 NEWMAC) on the season and will return to action on Friday, April 4th when they take on Wheaton in a 3:00 pm NEWMAC double-header. For full results and recaps, visit CGASPORTS.com.