By Mark Robertson
The University of Lynchburg’s softball team’s postseason run came with mixed emotions this spring. On one hand, the Hornets were elated to hear their name called for an at-large bid to the NCAA Division III tournament.
On the other, they felt disrespected. Lynchburg, ranked in the top 25 for most of the season, was to compete against No.1-ranked and defending national champion Virginia Wesleyan for the regional round. The Hornets had to go to Virginia Beach and play the role of David against Goliath.
And with their backs against the wall, the Hornets triumphed over the Marlins. Twice.
After winning the regional tournament with scores of 7-4 and 4-2, the team let go of any hard feelings about the challenge. “This weekend, all of that was set aside,” an elated head coach Dawn Simmons said.
Lynchburg’s season came to an end the following weekend in the super-regional round against Emory University, the eventual national runner-up. But a look back at the season proved it a historic one. The Hornets finished 37-15, the second-best record in program history, and advanced through the NCAA regionals for the second time ever. It was Lynchburg’s seventh-ever trip to the national tournament and the team’s second in a row, and the Hornets finished the year ranked 10th in the country.
But other qualities stick out, too. “I’m not sure we’ve had a team that has been this close in a long time,” Simmons, who has coached the team for 21 years, said. “We never gave up. We never quit. We just continued to battle and make adjustments and work together as a team.”
The season was packed with individual recognitions as well.
First baseman Mackenzie Chitwood ’19 earned Division III Player of the Year honors from the National Fastpitch Coaches Association and led the division in home runs, runs batted in, and total bases. Her 21 homers and 72 RBI set Lynchburg and ODAC single-season records, and she blasted through the school and league records for career home runs with 44 over her four years. (The previous record was 38, set by Caroline Cubbage ’07.)
But Chitwood, following the season-ending loss to Emory, echoed her coach’s sentiments.
“The best memories that we’ve had have been off the field,” the senior said. “I think we really learned how to bond.”
Third baseman Taylor Mabry ’19 joined her classmate on the NFCA’s All-America team to become Lynchburg’s third player to win multiple All-America honors, and the Hornets landed six players on the All-ODAC team and four on the All-State squad.
It truly was, as Simmons said, a team effort.
“I’m proud of our whole team,” she said. “They played the game the right way all year.”