There’s recording a noteworthy performance and there’s consistently dominating your opponent.
The 2019 softball season has been no stranger to no-hitters. The fireworks began during the year’s opening weekend. But not all pitchers have been able to string together masterful performances one after the other, and just because a team has an ace doesn't mean it's off to a fast start.
WILL THEY EVER LOSE? See which teams might stay unbeaten the longest
Some are in the USA Today/NFCA Division I Coaches Poll top 10. Others are inching closer. And there are those whose seasons won’t amount to much unless the rest of the team plays to its star’s level — or at least comes close.
Here are five pitchers who are off to incredible starts this season and what they’ve meant to their teams:
Montana Fouts, Alabama
The Crimson Tide (15-0) are undefeated thanks in large part to the play of freshman Montana Fouts. Fouts, who both USA Today and Maxpreps named the nation’s top player her senior year in high school, has started, completed and won each of her six games and allowed just three earned runs through 39 innings. That’s an ERA of 0.54.
The three-time Kentucky Gatorade Player of the Year out of East Carter High School in Grayson, Kentucky, has struck out 48 batters. Opponents are hitting .156 against her. And half her wins have come against ranked foes.
It’s a matter of time before she notches her first no-hitter. It's a feat, one would think, she’ll accomplish many times before her career is over as she rewrites the record books in Tuscaloosa.
Mariah Lopez, Oklahoma
The Sooners (13-2) are attempting to win their third national championship in four years this season, and if they get there much of the credit will have to go to the arm of junior Mariah Lopez. Through almost 34 innings of work so far this season the California native has already amassed 53 strikeouts and walked just 10. She’s 6-1 with an ERA of 1.04. And she owns nearly as many complete games — 3 — as earned runs — 5.
Lopez wouldn’t be surprising anyone at this point if she set new career bests for ERA, strikeouts and wins in a season. Batters are only hitting .106 against her.
Keely Rochard, Virginia Tech
We outscore our opponents 16-0 today in two wins! 👏— Virginia Tech Softball (@HokiesSoftball) February 23, 2019
• Eberle & Rochard pitch shutouts, combining to give up only 10 hits in 13 innings
• Bennett hits back-to-back HRs, while Chavez, Slaw & Strouth go deep as well
📝 » https://t.co/KJccySd74p#ThisIsHome | #Hokies 🦃 pic.twitter.com/Dr3XcJJ47k
The Hokies (12-2) got a taste of what 2019 could be with Rochard at her best when the sophomore’s first three starts, all complete games, netted wins and an average of 10 strikeouts per game. Then she reeled off back-to-back no-hitters in back-to-back days against Detroit Mercy and Charleston Southern.
Rochard is 6-1 with a save this season in seven starts and an ERA of 0.78, even with a less than stellar five-earned-run, five-walk performance against Texas State this past weekend that didn’t see her make it through four innings of work. The Virginia native has 66 strikeouts in just under 45 innings, too. Try having success at the plate facing a pitcher who has six shutouts and against whom opponents are hitting .083.
A HOME-RUN CYCLE? You're going to want to see this
Miranda Elish, Texas
Notice the one earned run in 31 innings and it’s clear just how formidable this junior Longhorns ace has been this season. From the Pac-12’s California to the SEC’s Ole Miss and Kentucky and ACC’s Boston College, not to forget appearances against Boise State and Tulsa, Elish has squashed any hope of high-scoring games to the tune of a 4-0 record, 0.23 ERA and opponent batting average of .140.
Elish has 41 strikeouts and just six walks in 31 innings for Texas (12-1). And the Longhorns have outscored opponents 49-5 in games during which she’s appeared. Circle the April series Texas has with Oklahoma and hope Elish matches up against Lopez. Either the Sooners or Longhorns will likely win the Big 12.
Riley Randolph, Florida Gulf Coast
FGCU is only 7-5 and not on the radar for the top 25. But it does have an ace of its own in senior Riley Randolph. Six of her seven starts have been complete games. She has 61 strikeouts in 47 innings. And while she’s 5-2 instead of 6-1 or 7-0, Randolph only has one earned run and an ERA of 0.15.
The Florida native has four shutouts. She's on a streak of three straight starts of seven innings and at least nine strikeouts. If FGCU makes the NCAA tournament at the end of the season it’ll be because Randolph has been able to maintain the track she’s on now. And she hasn’t shown any indication she’ll buck from it yet.