The Iowa State softball team took a major step in the right direction this year as they won 37 games, the program’s most since 1989.
After they barely missed making the NCAA Tournament, the Cyclones did qualify for the National Invitational Softball Championship (NISC) Tournament, then lost in heart-breaking fashion to the University of Texas-Arlington Mavericks 3-4 in the championship game.
Despite the loss, the Cyclones outperformed the expectations of many for the season; this was the first time that the program had seen postseason action since 1988.
“What was good about taking this job and coming back was that [the team] bought in immediately,” said coach Jamie Pinkerton. “I don’t know what they were thinking when I came from day one, but they bought in and it shows now.”
2019 is Pinkerton’s second year at the helm.
Last year, the Cyclones finished 23-33 and 4-14 in Big 12 play, putting them at sixth in the conference. Fast forward one year later, and they put up 14 more wins and an additional three in conference play to move up fifth place in the Big 12.
The season’s biggest win came against the No. 8 Texas Longhorns in the Big 12 Tournament, when the Cyclones pulled off a 2-0 upset.
After a loss to Oklahoma State in their second game of the tournament, the third-place game was canceled.
Before that, the Cyclones had pulled off key series-sweeps over Power 5 opponents Georgia Tech, Baylor and Kansas.
“We’ve been playing really well [after the Kansas game], which gives us momentum heading into the Big 12 Tournament,” Pinkerton said.
Had they not swept Baylor, Iowa State would have not even qualified for the Big 12 Tournament — as only the top six teams in regular season play get in.
If you take out the two teams that qualified for the College World Series (Oklahoma and Oklahoma State) from their conference record, their record would have been 7-5.
“The Big 12 is a very tough conference, so for us to do the things that we’ve done, it’s been great,” Pinkerton said.
When Pinkerton took over last year, he was the team's third coach in three years.
A 30-win season seemed out of reach in the second season, but Pinkerton said to give credit to the players for making it happen.
“The improvement that we’ve had is a credit to the character and integrity of the players for sticking with it,” Pinkerton said.
What makes this year even more outstanding is the fact that the Cyclones had a few losses to low RPI teams early in the season. Those losses were a smudge on the record of the late-blooming Cyclones, ultimately being the biggest reason that left them out of the NCAA picture. Nevertheless, Iowa State won 13 out of its last 21 games.
“We know how to finish and play together,” said senior Savannah Sanders. “We don’t let early mistakes affect us.”
According to Pinkerton, much of the praise goes the senior class.
“Seniors are sometimes like, 'oh this is my last year and I don’t have to do that and this' but that is not how this year’s class was at all,” said senior Sami Williams, an All-Big 12 first-team selection for the Cyclones. "They were always willing to help out."
The eight seniors that the Cyclones lost to graduation this season are outfielder Kirsten Caudle, utility player Sydney Stites, infielder Jaclyn Chairez, outfielder Taylor Nearad, catcher Kaylee Bosworth, first baseman Sally Woolpert and pitchers Emma Hylen and Sanders.
When those seniors entered as freshman, Iowa State’s RPI ranking was No. 150 according to Sanders.
With this historic season in the past, Cyclone fans should be excited for what this program could hold going forward. The Cyclones have forged a mentality for them to build on in the future.
“When we started this year, I really wanted to focus on changing the culture, but that couldn’t be done without the players, especially the seniors,” Pinkerton said.