After more than two decades of coaching, Maryland softball coach Julie Wright doesn’t experience that many “firsts” anymore.
But against Ohio State on Sunday, when right fielder Amanda Brashear exited in the fifth inning after running into the outfield fence, Wright had only one player — freshman catcher Caitlyn Koenig — available to fill the gap. The dire circumstances were unlike any that the Terps’ fourth-year coach had faced before.
“We put in our very last person,” Wright said. “It’s a very frightening experience … [to] have no one else to put in, if something else happened.”
Maryland will continue to rely on underclassmen and reserves to fill the holes across its roster, having been plagued by injuries and illnesses that forced Wright to reorder what was an effective lineup at the start of the season.
The biggest loss is second baseman Taylor Okada, who will be out for for the remainder of the season due to a knee injury suffered against Bryant on March 15. Okada has already undergone surgery and is expected to return in the fall, Wright said.
Okada led the Terps with a .426 batting average and a .455 on-base percentage from the leadoff position. She was a crucial part of Maryland’s offense, helping the team to a 16-12 nonconference record.
Starting March 19, center fielder JoJo McRae moved from the No. 9 spot to take Okada’s place at the top of the order. She’s proved her ability to provide similar production, reaching base in all seven games since the switch.
“I thought [McRae] could easily handle that spot,” Wright said. “She’s taking a lot of big pitches in big moments, getting walks and getting on base. … She’s really doing a good job of just taking her skill set and making it work as a leadoff.”
While Okada left big shoes to fill, McRae’s approach is no different from when she was at the bottom of the batting order.
“My main focus is just doing whatever I can to get on,” McRae said.
McRae has a .392 on-base percentage after reaching base at a .232 clip last season, and her .306 batting average ranks fifth on the team.
Freshman Regan Kerr — who has played shortstop, second base and right field so far this season — has also taken on an expanded role in Okada’s absence. She played second base, Okada’s former spot, the past two weekends, and replaced Brashear in right field Sunday.
“She’s done a good job at filling in for Okada,” Wright said. “I’ve been really pleased with her work ethic and how she’s handled herself. It’s hard to train multiple positions at this level … but her athleticism is off the charts.”
Though Kerr filled in for her against the Buckeyes, Wright said that Brashear is progressing and should be available to play “at some point” in the the Terps’ next series with Michigan State.
Wright is also anticipating the return of right-hander Sydney Golden, who fell ill after a commanding performance in the circle in Maryland’s first conference win — a 3-2 walk-off over the Buckeyes on Friday.
With Golden out the remainder of the weekend, the Terps’ remaining four pitchers all saw game action, allowing a combined 25 runs in 12 frames.
When she’s not playing, Golden makes it a priority to help teach the reserves so that they can be more effective in her absence.
“There’s been a lot of discussion going on between me and the other girls, especially about my mentality,” Golden said, “and how they can change the little things when something is going wrong.”
In Golden’s absence, Wright has made it a point to get the less-experienced pitchers up to speed. She believes their continued work in practice and in game situations bodes well for the rest of the conference slate.
“The other pitchers are learning what it’s going to take in their game to win,” Wright said. “They just have to take care of their own selves and do their own thing … and they’re good enough to be pitching at this level and having success.”