After a late-surge at the end of the 2018 season to eventually claim fourth place in the Southland Conference Tournament, the Sam Houston State University softball team has jumped out to an 11-4 conference record this year.
After finishing last season with an overall record of 24-33 (13-14 in conference), the Bearkats are playing .500 overall and are breezing through Southland foes to the tune of an 11-4 record—good for second place in the SLC.
The team has been able to succeed due to a number of things such as strong play from some returning players, new breakout players and a brand new head coach that has given new life to the team.
A big reason for the squad’s winning record this is the leadership from senior pitcher Lindsey McLeod who is coming off a very strong junior campaign in which she started 30 games, winning 15 of them and having a 3.01 ERA with 21 complete games, 8 shutouts and even a couple of saves. This season she has even improved on that by winning 10 games in only 14 starts and sporting an ERA of 2.71. She also recently broke the previous school record for strikeouts.
Sophomore infielder Brooke Malia and freshman infielder Kyndal Kutac have been key components all season long, as well.
Malia has been a very steady player, starting in all but two games since she arrived at SHSU and has been one of the team’s most consistent contributors. She has improved her batting average from her freshman season last year from .241 to .271 while also almost matching her homerun total from last season (five)— hitting four already this campaign in 20 less games so far. She has also hit a team-leading 12 doubles.
Kutac has also made an immediate impact as a freshman. She has started in 31 of the 32 games that she has played in this season— batting .250 with five homeruns.
One extremely big reason for the team’s newfound success is because of new head coach Garret Valis. The team began last offseason with the announcement that Bob Brock, the head coach at the time, was retiring from the program.
On May 11, 2018 the team announced that they had promoted Valis to head coach.
“I look forward to the future of this program,” Valis said at the time. “There’s a lot of experience coming back.”
Valis comes from a strong baseball background. He played third base and outfield at Ranger College from 2002-2004. He later transferred to the University of Texas where he helped as a hitting coach for the outfielders of the softball team. He also has a strong softball background with both of his sisters playing at the University of Texas.
As head coach, he has been able to build off the success from last season. The team recently swept the University of Central Arkansas, outscoring them 18-5 in the series. This was a crucial series because it was a road series against one of the stronger conference opponents.
“To go on the road to one of the toughest home field advantages in the conference and win three, that’s just what we needed,” Valis said.
Since that series, the team has won three of their last four series including a sweep of Houston Baptist University over the weekend where the Kats outscored the Huskies 15-2.
In 2017 when Valis was an assistant coach, he was able to coach the team to the fourth best batting average in the SLC. Since he took full control of the team, he has been able to implement his offensive style of coaching. He has also been able to improve the pitching statistics, lowering the team ERA from 3.88 a season ago to 3.47.
The Bearkats have four conference series remaining before the 2019 SLC Tournament begins May 7. Three of those four series are against teams with losing records. The Kats will face Abilene Christian University April 12.