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BYU softball: Cougars young yet as talented as they've ever been

PROVO — It's still very early in the season for BYU softball (5-5), with Cougar coach Gordon Eakin loving his team's overall potential, yet understanding there's a long way to go in order to meet that potential.

With West Coast Conference play beginning in early April, Eakin has scheduled a traditionally tough non-conference schedule with some mixed results coming as a result.

Take the first two games played this year against No. 9 South Carolina and No. 18 Baylor, where the Cougars lost 4-3 and then won by that same margin, respectively, during the Puerto Vallarta Challenge. Other games have followed suit, with the Cougars winning some games yet losing some tough ones against North Carolina (5-4) and Nebraska (5-4).

"It was validation that we could compete with the top teams in the country, but it was also disappointing that we couldn't close and finish those games like we need to," Eakin said of those narrow losses.

Given his team's relative youth, Eakin's comments make perfect sense. Eakin states plainly his optimism regarding the team's potential, while showing the necessary caution any good coach would.

"We have as much talent as we've ever had before," Eakin said. "We're very talented and pretty deep with that talent. So we feel we can sustain some injuries or a slump, although you certainly never want those things. What we lack is game experience."

The players who don't lack experience include catcher Libby Sugg, who is a team captain along with first baseman Allie Hancock.

"Both are seniors and they are our team leaders and we're fortunate to have them," Eakin said. "Some of the others this year have shown to be Emilee Erickson. She's been hitting very well and is showing great leadership for us. And then of course there's Rylee Jensen, who is certainly one of our top leaders."

Jensen is a junior outfielder who has been a key player since arriving at BYU in 2017. Currently she's batting for a .462 average while leading the team with 12 RBI.

"The kid has more talent than she knows what to do with," Eakin said of Jensen. "She's not necessarily young. She's a junior, but she's still developing every day, and that's an exciting thing. She's been really, really good for us and should continue to improve."

Pitching for the Cougars is another young group, lead by Arissa Paulson and Autumn Moffat.

"Our pitching staff is very young, but we really like the pitchers we have and believe they're going to form into a very good unit for us."

Some of the exciting young talent resides on the infield, led by sophomore shortstop Marissa Chavez.

"Defensively they're tremendous," Eakin said of his middle infield. "Marissa Chavez at shortstop is as good as any shortstop we've had defensively. She's just extremely talented and has good game sense. And then our second baseman, Erin Miklus, has been tremendous as well."

The Cougars will be expected to win yet another WCC title with hopes of advancing to the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament thereafter. Until then Eakin hopes to see necessary improvements made among his young yet very talented group of players.

"The biggest thing for us is consistency," Eakin said. "We need more games where we're not just playing four or five strong innings, but for all seven innings against some of the top teams we're going against, and then the ability to bounce back into the next game when we lose a game to a big opponent. That's a characteristic we need to work on. We need to learn to rebound from games where teams take it to us."