By Dalton Ray–
With another 30-plus win regular season in the books for softball coach Sandy Pearsall, the Cards now head into the ACC tournament.
When people look on paper for the team’s success, most likely they’ll look at batting average and home runs. The team’s leaders in batting average are Maryssa Becker, Megan Hensley and Sidney Melton. While the trio have had great seasons for U of L, the team’s depth is a big key of success.
Part of that depth is Nicole Pufahl. Her play at the plate and in the field has been huge. The redshirt sophomore bats in the middle of the lineup and her consistency helps turn the batting order over. In the outfield, she has yet to record an error in the 48 games played.
In her freshman season, Pufahl played in 35 games and started 23. She posted a .282 batting average and hit two home runs. Pufahl improved her plate performance, increasing her average to .305 and upping her home run total to five. This improvement was on the agenda for the California native.
“I expected to be a better batter this year, over the offseason I worked to improve my at-bat performance,” she said. “My pitch selection last year was a little iffy. I’m seeing the ball better this year and that focus helps me a lot. Being a better batter has helped me as a player and more importantly helped the team.”
Pufahl might be better with a glove in her hand than a bat. She has registered a catch in every game this year with a total of 60. Her fielding percentage is 100-percent and she hasn’t committed an error in her time as a Cardinal.
Being a role player isn’t something everyone can do. Most people want all the glory and their name in the highlights, but when you look at successful teams in any sport there is a similar pattern. A handful of stars and selfless role players that do their part. Pufahl is the kind of player who will do what it takes to get the job done.
“Going up to the plate with the confidence that I can get a hit is nice but it’s not always about getting a hit,” she said. “It’s about being productive. If I can lay down a bunt and move a runner over, then that’s what I’ll do. I just want to help the team score a run when I’m at the plate.”
Pufahl’s production isn’t going unnoticed either. Pearsall has acknowledged the outfielder’s production.
“Nicole has played really well for us this year, offensively and defensively,” Pearsall said. “She’s been hitting the ball a lot better this year and in the field she’s simply been great.”
Pufahl serves multiple roles on the team – consistent batter, great fielder and mentor for underclassmen. For such a young team, players like Pufahl are extremely valuable.
“I had to sit out a year because of my ACL,” she said. ” So I’m basically an upperclassmen but this is just my second year playing. I’ve been where the freshman are, so if they’re struggling or injured I can relate to them and give advice to get through. This game is all about having fun and if you’re not you won’t play your best.”
While every successful team has their share of star power, it’s the role players who step up in key moments that truly make the difference. Any program would welcome a team player like Pufahl on their team as they head into the postseason. Pufahl said one of the team’s goals this year is to make it to Super Regionals. If the team gets to that point or farther, it’s safe to say number 72 will have a large part in it.
File photo / The Louisville Cardinal