The Frances Marion Patriots now sit at 24-3 on the season, a red-hot start to the year for a team that was picked to finish seventh in the preseason coaches poll.
Buoyed by solid pitching, the Patriots’ offense has been its brightest spot this season, scoring 195 runs through their first twenty-seven games of the year, good enough for an average of more than seven runs per game. Head coach Stacey Vallee lauded her team’s offensive approach as the “catalyst” behind their success through the first portion of the year.
Sporting a young roster, ten freshmen make up the largest class on the team. They’re joined by five sophomores, four juniors, and a lone senior. Many of the team’s young players have shown out in the early weeks of the season, and their efforts have been noticed: Four of the first five Freshman of the Week awards handed out by the Peach Belt Conference went to rookie Patriots.
Freshman catcher Sarah Harkins was one of the recipients of that award, after quality performances at the plate during her team’s week five slate of games. Harkins, a fiery leader behind the plate and a clutch performer in the batter’s box, also received praise from Vallee for her development just a few months into her collegiate career.
In week six, which included a pair of doubleheaders, the Patriots’ young players came through en masse, leading the team to four wins and contributing heavily at the plate and in the circle.
Katelyn Ellard, a junior who transferred in prior to the 2019 season, saw little action at Division I UMass-Lowell in her own freshman season, but has emerged as the Patriots’ pitching ace since arriving in Florence, leading the staff in wins (18) and strikeouts (213) a season ago, and already owning a 15-3 record and 117 Ks this year. Sophomore Janecia “Neecie” Hemingway is undefeated on the year, at 5-0, and holds a 2.37 ERA in twelve appearances and nearly fifty innings, while freshman Rachel Davis sits at 4-0 and earned a win in the team’s weekend finale on Sunday.
With little fanfare and attention around their successes, the Patriots quietly boast the best record of any Peach Belt team after the weekend’s games. The team’s 9-game winning streak is also a conference best. In a tough league, keep an eye on Francis Marion when conference play begins. After a hot start, they are definitely a team to watch through the course of the year.