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Softball’s coach Rittman breaks down season expectations

Aralynn Minnick, Contributor

Clemson softball pitcher Valerie Cagle (72) prepares to bat in a scrimmage on Feb. 5, 2022.

With less than two weeks until Clemson softball’s home opening day, all eyes are on head coach John Rittman and his program. 
Following the Feb. 5 intrasquad scrimmage, Rittman spoke out about his team, season goals and player capabilities.
Clemson was recently ranked No. 14 overall for softball by ESPN, including No. 1 in the ACC for pitching. ACC player of the year Valerie Cagle will return this season, which Rittman noted her “tremendous” performances since joining the Tigers.
Rittman accredited Cagle as an offensive and defensive asset, but also highlighted her maturity following her recent success in the field and in the media.
“She’s stronger, she’s faster, but I think most importantly she’s improved in the mental game,” he said. “She’s learned to have the spotlight on her 24/7…. She’s done a great job growing in all those areas.”
Yet the talent on the mound does not stop with Cagle. “We do have a pitching staff that’s very capable,” said Rittman, referring to returning players Regan Spencer, Millie Thompson and Emma Whitfield. “We’ve got some depth in the circle and that’s going to bode well for us this long year.”
He also noted that several freshmen have been identified as possible pitching assets for the season. For those freshmen, Cagle could be a great mentor. 
“Being a pitcher and a hitter gives me an edge a lot of people don’t have,” said Cagle, who has previously accredited her strong pitching due to her experience at bat.
By having Cagle and multiple effective pitchers, Clemson can look to remain a ranked team and dominate on the mound. 
As for the plate, Mckenzie Clark will be returning to help bring Clemson to a hopeful championship.
“We have to come out with a new purpose and go for ACC regular season and all ACC champs,” Clark said in a post-exhibition interview.
Clemson also gained outfielder and NC State transfer Sam Russ. Russ’s batting average of .319 was a fifth career high for NC State, complimenting her on base percentage of .426.
“They’re going to be great table setters for us,” said Rittman of Clark and Russ. “We have depth this year.”
Rittman hopes to improve hitting overall for the team, noting consistency and competition will be the most beneficial factors in increasing hitting performance.
Speed and base stealing was another offensive asset Rittman believes will help Clemson going forward.
Defensively, Rittman also stated the team has improved compared to last year. This improvement is likely in part due to experience and training, but also the fact that eight starting position players have returned and seven freshmen joined the program.
Despite the “target” that Clemson has going into the new season, Rittman said he is impressed with the team’s leadership and believes it is a way to keep up the hard work. By starting off strong, it can push his team to maintain the threat they pose over opponents.
The team also received its 2021 ACC championship rings at the conclusion of the scrimmage, officially marking the end of the successful season. Rittman noted it as the end, but also labeled it as an opportunity for the team to now focus on the new season.
It is no question that Rittman and his team have the potential to be strong in all aspects on the field. With a long season ahead supported by a plethora of talented players, Rittman’s high hopes for the team and a potential title win are well justified.
The Tigers will start opening day at the Florida Gulf Coast Classic, Feb. 10-13. Their home opener will be the Clemson Classic, scheduled for Feb. 25-27.

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