Picked in the preseason to finish 10th out of 11 teams in its conference, Emory & Henry’s softball team is off to a surprising 13-1 start.
One big reason behind the Wasps’ early-season surge has been the play of freshman third baseman Ragan Halsey, a 2013 graduate of Carroll County High School. After 14 games, Halsey is batting .379 and is second on the team in RBIs with 12. She’s also quickly proving herself to be a clutch hitter as she leads the team in batting average with runners in scoring position, hitting .571 (8-of-14) with runners on second or third base.
Not even expected to be a major contributor this season, Halsey caught the eye of first-year head coach Tommy Forrester from the moment he stepped on campus.
“When I took the team over in August and I talked to the former coach, we went over personnel and she thought Ragan had a chance to get playing time as a freshman. She didn’t know how much playing time,” Forrester said. “As the fall went on, she proved herself day after day after day, and became one of the most consistent players on our team. She hits and she is a great defender. She’s got a great arm, and really by the end of the fall we thought she was our starting third baseman.”
But Halsey was facing stiff competition from former Southwest District rival Hannah Bays, a returning sophomore from Abingdon High School who became the first E&H player to earn All-ODAC first team honors last year since 2005 and the program’s first all-region player since 2004.
“Hannah was coming back after being ineligible for the fall. We thought she may play third base over Ragan, but Ragan continued to prove herself so we moved Hannah to right field,” Forrester said. “It’s nice having players like Hannah that can play anywhere in the field. We just love Ragan offensively and defensively. She does a great job.”
Despite her early success, Halsey’s college career did not get off to the greatest start. After being named the starter at third base, the Carroll native suffered a setback the day prior to the first game. While hitting off a tee, Halsey ripped the ball off a pole before the ball came back and hit her in the eye, causing her to miss the team’s first two games.
“I got a pretty nice black eye out of it,” Halsey said. “I couldn’t believe it. I was like, really, the day before our opening day and I can’t even play?”
Since that time, Halsey has been on fire offensively. It all started with a 2-for-4 day with 2 RBIs and two runs in a 9-0 win at N.C. Wesleyan on March 2. Halsey then went on a tear at The Fastpitch Dreams Spring Classic in N. Myrtle Beach, S.C. as she helped the team go 8-0, including a pair of wins over Division II programs.
The third baseman went off in an 11-3 win over Blackburn as she went 3-for-4 with 3 RBIs and two runs on March 9. The next day she went 2-for-2 with an RBI in a 10-2 win over Medaille and 1-for-3 with a two-run triple in a 3-0 victory over Division II’s Ohio Valley.
Halsey then went 1-for-4 with an RBI in a 4-3 triumph over Ursuline on March 11. The following day she went 1-for-3 with a run and RBI in wins over Greenville and Eureka.
“When we have runners in scoring position you can almost always depend on her coming through,” Forrester said.
In 29 plate appearances, Halsey has only struck out once. She’s been just as impressive in the field, where she’s made just one error in 33 chances at the hot corner.
“You never know how long it will take a player to adjust to the pace of the college game. You see more slappers and more speed. They hit hot shots to third, but Ragan is just Ragan,” Forrester said. “Her attitude is so awesome. Nothing riles her. She just plays the game. Her throwing mechanics aren’t ideal. It’s not how you teach it, but she probably has the best arm on the team, so I am not changing it.”
Playing AAU and travel ball virtually year-round, Halsey said she’s not been surprised with her early success as a freshman at Emory & Henry. The biggest adjustment for her has not been the increased level of competition, but learning to take more responsibility and better time management.
“It’s very time-consuming and it took a while to get used to three-hour practices day after day, and coming out even when you are tired,” Halsey said. “But all that hard work is paying off. It’s actually been a lot of fun.”
The young Wasps start up to five freshmen depending on matchups, but the team is deep with 21 players who can contribute. Although the competition will be stiff once ODAC play begins, Forrester believes the team will continue to surprise preseason prognosticators.
“The ODAC is really good and we know we will face some tough teams, but a lot of times preseason rankings go by what happened last year. It’s hard at the Division III level to know what kind of recruiting class we picked up,” Forrester said. “We got a good recruiting class and a couple of transfers that have helped us out. From the inside we are not surprised we are off to such a good start, and I expect us to make noise in the ODAC.”
Forrester plans to recruit Southwest Virginia hard and believes he can make the Wasps a winner with players from this area, especially more players like Halsey.
“We’re proud to have Ragan,” he said. “I love coaching her. I think she is a great kid and a great player. She is the type of player we want to build our program with at Emory & Henry.”
Allen Worrell can be reached by calling (276) 728-7311 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN