Head softball coach Todd LaVelle had little choice but to lean upon workhorse pitcher Michaela Woodward for every inning of the 2015 GPAC softball tournament. In throwing all six games in a four-day span, Woodward served as a monumental reason why the Bulldogs hoisted the conference tournament trophy. In the aftermath, a teammate referred to Woodward as a “stud.”
It’s an appropriate word for the player who was essentially the unofficial MVP of the GPAC tournament and shouldered nearly 200 innings in 2015. Now she’s got help. It just takes a little time to get used to it.
“I was a little jealous at first,” Woodward said. “But it’s a blessing.”
When it comes to softball, what Woodward and co-ace pitcher Kylie Harpst want more than anything is to compete and to win. They’ve done plenty of that so far. With Harpst and Woodward eating up nearly every inning in the circle, the Bulldogs are off to 17-6 start while sporting a 2.73 team ERA.
It would only be natural for an intense competitor like Woodward to be reluctant in regards to turning over some of her pitching duties to someone else. But the two have complimented each other nicely both on and off the field.
“Having us together has been great,” said Harpst, a transfer from Pittsburg State. “If I’m having a bad game or I’m not getting it done, I know she’ll come in and do great. She’ll take over. I’m all about winning. If I’m not having a good game I want her to come in and shine. She’s the same way. I feel like we’re both on the same page. We both want to win. We want to succeed.”
Harpst is the type of person and player that garners instant credibility. She twice earned all-state recognition while playing for LaVelle at Lincoln North Star High School and fired nearly 100 innings at Pittsburg State in 2014. She spent last season lending moral support to her Concordia teammates while recovering from shoulder surgery. Her addition has been huge in obvious ways.
“It’s really nice having Kylie,” Woodward said. “This year is completely different. Now I have more trust in my defense. It’s even more of a relief to have Kylie backing me up. If my spin’s not working it’s a lot harder to rely on my defense because they’re probably going to hit it a lot harder. With Kylie we can just switch.”
Harpst and Woodward are excelling despite collectively averaging fewer than three strikeouts per game. They know they can trust a defensive unit that ranks second in the conference in fielding percentage. On Wednesday Woodward held Doane to just one hit over the first six innings even though she had struck out only one Tiger hitter.
Even more impressive is that Concordia has played such stellar defense while employing two freshmen – second baseman Leah Kalkwarf and shortstop Jamie Lefebure – in the middle of the infield. In the doubleheader at Doane, Lefebure turned a nifty double play with a Tiger charging at her.
“It’s incredible what they’re doing,” Woodward said. “Everything’s working well. We’re turning double plays. It’s so much more of a relief. They helped me hold Doane to one hit in six innings, which is pretty incredible considering Doane is the No. 1 team in the conference.”
Added Harpst, “I’m not a strikeout pitcher. They’re going to hit it. I have so much trust in my teammates – every one of them. We all trust each other.”
That trust extends to catcher Taylor Huff, another transfer and former high school teammate of Harpst. Huff, like Harpst and Woodward, has killed it at the plate so far in 2016. But her biggest value may be in what she provides behind the dish. It’s been a happy reunion for the pair that led North Star to a state runner-up finish in 2009.
“She knows how I am,” Harpst said of Huff. “She knows my personality and what works when I get frustrated. If I have a bad pitch or am freaking out a little bit, she takes timeout and comes and talks to me. We’re on the same page. She knows what’s working and we figure out what needs to be done. We have that bond.”
Harpst and Woodward will be back in the circle on Saturday when Concordia plays at home for the first time this season. The Bulldogs and Briar Cliff go head-to-head at 1 p.m. from Plum Creek Park.