Zips Softball Begins MAC Play with First Home Series of 2018

Akron will host Toledo for one game on Friday and a doubleheader on Saturday to kick off conference play.


Front row (L-R): No. 11 Jenna Jones, No. 7 Sabria Bruton, No. 33 Caitlin Gambone, No. 1 Madison Carter, No. 15 Kayla Wulf. Second row (L-R): No. 18 Jordan Crews, No. 21 Laura Lakins, No. 22 Kayla Kmett, No. 4 Mikayla Newland, No. 2 Maddy Clowdus, No. 10 Kimberly Rodriguez. Back Row (L-R): No. 12 Cassie Gillespie, No. 5 Jessie Holzman, No. 13 Sydney Jascoe, No. 27 Lexie Handley, No. 9 Kooper Vertz. (Photo courtesy of Akron Athletics.)

By A.J. Fagerlin, Sports Contributor

After posting a record of 29-28 while going 12-12 in the Mid-American Conference a year ago, this year’s Akron Zips softball team will need to adapt without their ace pitcher if they want to take home the MAC title. Their road to Firestone Stadium and the MAC Tournament begins this weekend right here in Akron. The Zips will host the Toledo Rockets at Lee R. Jackson Field on Friday, March 23 at 3 pm, as well as Saturday for a doubleheader scheduled for 1 and 3 pm.

Although the Zips were given two votes to win the MAC Championship in the 2018 MAC preseason coaches poll, Akron faces an uphill battle if they want to seize the title in their home city come tournament time in May. Reigning MAC Freshman of the Year and the ace in the circle for the Zips, Lexie Handley, will miss the entire 2018 season due to injury. This is a huge blow, as Handley finished her freshman season in the top five in the conference in starts, appearances, innings pitched, wins, strikeouts, opponent batting average, and ERA.

So far, the adjustment has proven to be difficult for Akron in 2018, as the team currently sits at 1-21-1 entering conference play. However, the Zips have the experience and leadership from their upperclassmen and the talent and spunk from their newcomers and younger players to be able to piece things together and compete at a high level in the MAC.

The Zips, led by twelve-year head coach Julie Jones, begin a whole new season this weekend, as only the conference record counts towards seeding for the MAC Tournament at the end of the season. Captains Cassie Gillespie and Laura Lakins will look to help Jones steer the team in the right direction, and get things going for Akron on the diamond.

First basemen and captains Gillespie and Lakins, along with senior pitcher Kooper Vertz and senior infielder Caitlin Gambone, provide the veteran leadership for a relatively young and new-look Akron team this season. Of the 15 players currently listed on the Akron roster, eight of them are looking to see action as a Zip for the first time this year. So over half of this year’s team has never hit the diamond for Akron prior to this season.

In the circle, Vertz guides a very young and shallow pitching staff, comprised of just two other pitchers, both of which are true- freshman. As the second pitcher behind Handley a season ago, Vertz posted a 3.03 ERA and a 5-5 record. This season, Vertz currently leads the team with 14 appearances in 22 games, providing Jones with an experienced arm to go to in tight situations.

Like last season, it appears as though a freshman will take on the role as the number one starting pitcher for Akron. Freshman Mikayla Newland has started 10 games thus far for the Zips, five of which being complete games. Newland also leads the squad in strikeouts with 27 and tossed a complete game shutout in the Zips’ lone victory of the season on Feb. 18 against Fort Wayne. Also seeing time in the rotation is freshman Kayla Kmett who is currently second on the team in starts (7), innings pitched (44.2), and strikeouts (19) behind Newland.

Leading the way at the plate so far this year for Akron are junior catcher Maddy Clowdus and redshirt freshman infielder Sydney Jascoe. After playing two seasons at The University of North Dakota, Clowdus has stepped in and established herself as the everyday catcher and heads the offensive charge with a .314 batting average, .415 on-base percentage, .600 slugging percentage, and 3 home runs. Jascoe has started every game at shortstop after redshirting a season ago and has recently been batting leadoff for the Zips. Jascoe has totaled the most hits on the team (19), hitting .311 and leading the team in total bases.

Infielder Kimberly Rodriguez, who transferred to Akron this year from Nicholls State, has displayed her incredible speed, stealing 10 bases on 13 attempts already this season. Rodriguez is also hitting .260. Freshman catcher Kayla Wulf homered in her first collegiate at-bat for the Zips. Junior transfers Jordan Crews and Sabria Bruton have primarily split time in right field this season, each starting 14 total games.

Sophomore Jessie Holzman has started every game for Akron in centerfield and has a .250 batting average. Sophomore Madison Carter has stolen three bases and scored five runs for the Zips, primarily in a pinch runner role. Gambone has had a steady hand at the hot corner, as the third baseman leads the team with 46 defensive assists. Gillespie is hitting .279 and has walked a team-high eight times, and Lakins leads the Zips with eight RBI on the year.

As Akron looks to overcome their rocky start to 2018, they need all the support that they can get from their fans and their school. The softball team plays their home games right here on campus at Lee R. Jackson Field across from the Student Recreation and Wellness Center. The MAC Tournament is even held annually here in Akron at Firestone Stadium. Be sure to come out for some fun, action-packed seven-inning affairs this 2018 softball season, starting this weekend.

Again, the Zips will take on the Toledo Rockets to begin MAC play at home on Friday at 3 pm, and again on Saturday at 1 and 3 pm. All home Akron softball games at Lee R. Jackson Field are free to attend. To view the full 2018 Akron softball schedule, visit this website.