Thomas, Lady Hawks enjoyed another successful season
ROME -- He’s had plenty of time to replay the games.
Some unearned runs, a bloop single, stranded runners – all kept Shorter University head softball coach Al Thomas thinking about how close the Lady Hawks came to making their fifth-straight appearance in the NAIA Softball National Championship their best yet.
He is quick, however, to push those memories aside and replace them with those of a remarkable season the team enjoyed in 2011, one that started out on a not-so promising route, but ended with the Lady Hawks re-establishing themselves as one of the best programs in the nation.
“You replay everything in your head – things you should’ve done or could’ve done,” Thomas said about Shorter’s final two games in the Elite 8 of this year’s national tourney that came on the heels of the Lady Hawks’ biggest win ever.
“[The girls] were upset because they knew they had a chance,” he said. “But when you think about what they did this year, it’s remarkable.”
The list of remarkable accomplishments began after an unremarkable start, when the Lady Hawks opened the first two months of the season with a less-than-spectacular 14-8 record. But Shorter regrouped after spring break to win 19 of its next 20 games, a stretch that featured a 15-game win streak.
So incredible was the turnaround that the Lady Hawks wound up winning the Southern States Athletic Conference East Division regular season championship and earning the division’s top seed for the SSAC Tournament, where Shorter once again stepped up to a challenge.
Following a one-run loss to eventual champion Belhaven, the Lady Hawks charged back through the consolation bracket to down three nationally-ranked SSAC foes, including then No. 2-ranked William Carey, in less than 24 hours to reach the tourney final and secure a national tournament berth.
And when Shorter headed to the national stage in Gulf Shores, Ala., the Lady Hawks did something only four teams had done throughout the season – beat No. 5-ranked Central Baptist (Ark.) in the final game of Pool E to win the pool and advance for the second year in a row to the tourney’s Elite 8.
“That was probably the biggest win in the program’s history. A lot of people picked (Central) to win it all,” Thomas said about Shorter’s 2-1 victory over the nation’s top-rated offensive ballclub. “They were a phenomenal team and no one gave us a chance of beating them. When we beat them, it gave our team validity.”
While the Lady Hawks rolled up a 46-15 record, they also witnessed a wealth of notable individual efforts, the most prominent coming from senior Libby Munson.
The most prolific player in Shorter history, Munson closed out her career as a four-time NAIA All-American, a four-time Louisville Slugger/NFCA East Region First Team pick and a four-time All-SSAC selection. Munson was also named to the NAIA Softball National Championship All-Tournament team the past two years.
Regarded as the nucleus of a team that lost two All-Americans and six All-SSAC performers from a 2010 squad that won 51 games and finished fifth at the national tournament, Munson had one of her best seasons ever in 2011, posting a 27-7 record in the circle with a 1.32 ERA while batting .371 with 41 RBI and a team-best 17 doubles.
All told, Munson closes the book on her career with a 105-24 record as a pitcher, a .359 career batting average and .977 career fielding percentage.
Her 105 wins on the rubber are a Shorter record, as are her 788 career strikeouts, 46 career shutouts, 110 career complete games and her 1.30 ERA. Munson tossed a program best 820.2 career innings and made 117 starts for the Lady Hawks.
And at the plate, Munson finished as Shorter's career leader in at-bats (802), hits (288), doubles (68) and RBI (174).
Munson was not the only Lady Hawk recognized for having a remarkable season.
Sophomore Jessica Womble was also named to the 2011 Louisville Slugger/NFCA NAIA Softball All-American Team and was an All-SSAC selection after turning in one of the best single seasons in Shorter history.
Womble set single season records with a .442 batting average and seven triples, a number that led the SSAC and ranked sixth in the country.
Freshman Anna Frazee made the most of her first season on the college level, as she was Shorter’s third All-SSAC pick – she was selected as the NAIA National Player of the Week in March – and joined teammate Kristen Little on the SSAC All-Freshman team.
Senior Kara Pollock earned SSAC All-East Division recognition, while the Lady Hawks’ excellence in the classroom was highlighted by the selection of Munson, Pollock, Womble, seniors Amanda Albertson and Kayla Lewis, junior Brooke Bryan and redshirt freshman Jackie Castaneda to the Academic All-Conference squad.
As is the case when any season ends, the Lady Hawks said farewell to five seniors who all played key roles during their careers – Munson, Pollock, Lewis, Albertson and Chelsea Blair.
“What they accomplished in four years is unbelievable,” Thomas said. “They love the program and loved being a part of it.”
Thomas and his staff have already begun working for next season having all but wrapped up Shorter’s new recruiting class that will pair up with an experienced returning lineup.
“We’re thrilled about what we’ve got coming in,” said Thomas. “It’s really exciting to think about what’s in store for the future."