West Texas A&M softball has become synonymous with winning since 2010. Kevin Blaskowski has led this team and players to many honors over his 11 years as head coach. This past weekend, he added a little accolade to his personal trophy case.
Blaskowski captured his 750th win as a head coach in softball, a feat only 29 other DII coaches have accomplished. This coming weekend, he goes for his 400th win as head coach of the Lady Buffs as he sits at 399- 231 in his tenure at WT.
“I didn’t realize it had happened until after the double header was over,” Blaskowski said. “When you are on a long bus ride you have a chance to think about it and reflect. 750 wins don’t happen if you don’t have great people around you. Great administrators, great assistant coaches that make my job easier, and obviously the student athletes.
“To now be in a situation where you are one of 30, it’s definitely rewarding and it’s a great honor to achieve it with this team having the year that its having. To realize that you are one of 30 to ever hit a mark, that’s truly humbling and I am blessed to have had the opportunity I have had.”
Blaskowski was hired back in 2004 to resurrect the West Texas A&M softball team. Due to financial reasons, the WT — then West Texas State — softball program would go away after the 1982-83 season. A 24 year hiatus would ensure, but they knew they had found their guy to bring the Lady Buffs back to relevance.
He had already started up two programs — once at the NAIA school Phillips University and then at Southern Arkansas — so starting anew at WT was something in which he was very much familiar.
“Each of those were different challenges,” Blaskowski said, “but coming to West Texas was a challenge in itself because I was coming to a program that had great Women’s Basketball and Volleyball in a region of the country that didn’t have much softball. It was something that I was drawn to because i looked at the challenge and said, ‘what if?’ What if we could build this program like the basketball and volleyball programs?”
It wasn’t pretty at first. West Texas A&M didn’t register a winning season in its first three years back competing as a DII program.
“I owe a lot to the players that were here the first two or three years when things were lean because they took some beatings and had some losses that they really had to fight through,” Blaskowski said. “But they created a base and a belief that what we did was right.”
Then the calendar turned to 2010. Since then, they have been the best team in Texas on any level of collegiate baseball and one of softball's elite teams in the entire nation. As they capped off winning season after winning season, they reached their pinnacle in 2014. They became one of four teams to hit the 60-win mark and finally captured that elusive national championship.
“I can talk about that for a long time,” Blaskowski said. “That was a special year. That was one of those years that in the fall my third baseman Jessica Sipe came to me and said, ‘This is our year.’ It was that feeling all year long. To watch the season unfold and how hard that group worked together... they refused to lose. They willed themselves to wins throughout the year.
“I still look back at that and say, 'Wow we really did that'. 60 wins is an unbelievable amount of wins. The way we persevered the whole way through, it was an amazing run.”
This year the Lady Buffs have gotten out to a hot start again, now sitting at 33-1. Two time DII Player of the Year Renee Erwin and several other seniors from their magical 2014 season had graduated. This was the first time in quite awhile that Blaskowski faced some uncertainty with his Lady Buffs.
“There are only three seniors who were at the World Series in 2014 left on the roster,” Blaskowski said. “Last year we had everybody back from the championship, so it was business at normal. This year, over half the team was new. We spent a lot of time this fall talking about how the 2016 team is going to write its own chapter in the history of the Lady Buffs. I challenged this team to find their own identity and their own way.”
Part of that identity is with the incoming freshman class who are already leaving their mark. Kourtney Coveney has already made her presence felt, sitting amongst the tops in the country batting .463.
“Kourtney, she’s not a stranger to pressure,” Blaskowski said of his former 6A and Greater Houston High School Player of the Year. “She played for a former player of mine, Megan Brown, who called me early in the recruiting process and said, ‘This kid can be special.’ And she is. She just comes up with big at bats over and over and over. She just stays calm and cool. That’s just the way this freshman class has been. Brittany Cruz — our nine whole hitter — has over 30 RBI and nine game winning hits for us. It’s just fun to watch them play.”
The seniors, like catcher Lacey Taylor who was the Lone Star Conference Preseason Player of the Year, have been nothing short of spectacular themselves. Pitcher Tori Bayer just took home her second Pitcher of the Week Award of the season.
“Tori has been here for three years and was part of the championship team,” Blaskowski said. “The first couple of years she and I may not have been on the same page about her role. She wanted to be a starter and I wanted to see her come out of the bullpen. She has absolutely embraced that role right now.”
Bayer sits at 10-0 with seven saves. Nine of those wins have come out of the bullpen as the stabilizing force behind so many of WT’s signature come from behind wins this season. Her one win not out of the bullpen? A complete game.
This weekend against Cameron, Blaskowski hopes to achieve his next milestone and capture his 400th win since building this program back from obscurity. It’s remarkable to think that he has reached 400 wins in just his 11th season after starting with essentially nothing. It's a testament to his philosophy and ability to have his players buy into his vision, a vision that produces a mountain of wins.
His team is unified in getting him back to Denver for another World Series run.
“The reason we are where we are is because our mindset is that we play one game at a time,” Blaskowski said of his 2016 squad. “One game, one inning, one at bat, one pitch. These kids have really embraced that. That’s why when we have fallen behind, we haven’t panicked because we believe there’s always more game to play. The players that were here last year were frustrated with not getting back to the series last year with everybody back. They want to make sure we make as deep a run as possible.”
DII Women's Basketball: National Semifinals are set
A full slate of games Tuesday in South Dakota saw the last eight teams standing in Women’s basketball cut to four. One Cinderella team is still dancing into Wednesday night.
The day started with the Lubbock Christian Lady Chaps improving to 33-0 on the season. Starting with the Heartland Conference Tournament, LCU had won all six of their postseason games by at least 20 points heading into Tuesday’s action. Florida Southern gave them a run for the money Tuesday, nearly taking down the country’s best team as the Lady Chaps rose to a 73-69 victory.
Game 2 on the day would see a clash of No. 1 seeds as Bentley took on Virginia Union. The game would see an exciting finish as Bentley hung on to win 53-52. Jen Gemma led the charge for Bentley posting a double-double behind 16 points and 12 rebounds. Virginia Union standouts Kiana Johnson led all scorers with 26 points while Lady Walker posted a double-double of her own. Bentley faces LCU Wednesday at 7:30 PM.
Alaska-Anchorage would end the run of one of the two No. 7 seeds still remaining in the tournament. Despite a sensational day by Francis Marion’s Briana Burgins — who scored 29 points on 10 of 19 shooting while going 9-for-10 from the free throw line — the Seawolves were able to improve to 37-2 behind a 79-55 win. Jessica Madison (15 points) and Alysha Devine (12 points) led a balanced attack that saw eight Seawolves score six or more points.
The other seven seed remaining would see their Cinderella season continue. Grand Valley State would hang on to defeat the red hot Pittsburgh State 59-56. Taylor Parmley had a huge night for GVSU, scoring 19 points and ripping down 11 rebounds. No two points were bigger than her two game clinching free throws with 16 seconds left. They will face Alaska-Anchorage in the nightcap Wednesday evening.