BELDING — For the fifth consecutive season, the Belding Redskins softball team won a district championship. They followed that win up with a fourth consecutive regional championship a week later.
This year, though, they did it without three-time all-state pitcher Kyleigh Linebaugh. The former Belding star just completed her freshman season of softball for the Davenport University Panthers.
“The season went pretty well, especially in conference,” Linebaugh said. “I really stepped up with my role as second pitcher. I really liked it, enjoyed everybody and it was a lot of fun.”
Davenport’s (36-14-1) outstanding season included winning the WHAC tournament championship and its second trip in three seasons to the NAIA National Tournament.
The Panthers defeated Aquinas College 2-0 for the league tournament title. They finished behind Cornerstone (14-2) during the regular season with a 13-3 record.
“We won our conference tournament, which put us in the national tournament,” Linebaugh said. “We played in Kentucky and won our first ever national game, but lost overall. That was exciting and we finished in the top 30.”
Davenport traveled to Columbia, Ky., for the national tournament. They lost to Lindsey Wilson 6-2 to open the tourney, but topped Grand View 7-1 in their second game.
A rematch with Lindsey Wilson didn’t fair well, as the Panthers lost 4-1 and were knocked out of the tournament.
During the season, Linebaugh had the opportunity to pitch the second game of doubleheaders.
“I would pitch the second game of every doubleheader in our conference,” Linebaugh said. “It was a lot of fun with her (Sam Cole). I looked up to her and see had a lot of experience.”
Cole, a senior, went 24-9 with a 1.32 ERA and 181 strikeouts in 201 innings pitched.
Linebaugh went 11-5 for the season in 26 appearances (19 games started). She struck out 49 in 114 innings and had a 3.01 ERA.
“It was a lot different. One through nine (hitters) are very good batters,” Linebaugh said. “You have to stay focused and figure out the hitters weakness pretty fast. They can hit everything and are mentally tougher.”
With Cole a senior, Linebaugh has the inside track on being the No. 1 pitcher next year.
“We have some freshman coming in and I have taken the leader role to them, as she did to me and I’m looking forward to that,” Linebaugh said.
Linebaugh isn’t playing a full schedule of softball this summer, but is working on her game to improve for next year.
“I’m going to play in a couple of pickup tournaments, but give myself a little break,” Linebaugh said. “I’m going to work on some things for next year. Once school starts it’s everyday and I don’t want to get burned out.
“I need to move the ball better left to right and placing it. My changeup struggled a little bit, so I need some fine tweaks that can make my game more impressive,” she added.
With just one senior and three juniors on the Davenport team this year, Linebaugh is expecting continued improvement from her team next year.
“I think this team has a lot to accomplish next year,” Linebaugh said. “I think we can do it next year and the coming years. It’s a program that is growing and getting better and better every year.”
Davenport finished the year receiving votes in the final NAIA top 25 poll.