CHARLOTTE – There were certainly some ups and downs in the road that led Jenna McCauley to the Providence softball team.
She spent her first two seasons playing for her father, Joe. That was a big plus.
“My dad has been one of my only coaches for my whole life, and I enjoy having him as my coach,” she said. “When we’re on the field together, he was just a coach and not really my dad. He knows a lot about softball and basically taught me everything that I know.”
But there were some negatives.
McCauley was enrolled at Queen’s Grant, a program that has produced nine total wins over the past five seasons. Despite the team’s struggles, the losing didn’t effect her statistically. In two seasons, McCauley batted .614, hit seven home runs and threw three no-hitters despite not really being a pitcher.
But the grind of playing on bad teams was a lot to handle.
“Queen’s Grant was really tough because there wasn’t much talent. It became very, very dreadful, actually,” she said. “I had to be more of a coach than a player and go back and re-teach some of the girls things so we could at least try to be successful. It was not a good experience.”
McCauley spent the summer with USA softball, traveling for nine days. It was a re-energizing trip that got her ready for this season.
“That was awesome,” she said. “We went to Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and traveled around Europe for nine days. I played with girls from all over the United States, and I really enjoyed playing with people from different areas and different cultures because softball isn’t the same in some countries as it is in America. It was a great experience overall.”
After enrolling at Providence, she began playing pretty well.
Through six games, McCauley was 6-for-17 at the plate with a pair of homers and three RBIs, but the Panthers, who were coming off consecutive 18-win seasons without her, stood at just 3-3 following a 7-5 loss to Sun Valley.
“It was a huge change, but a change for the better,” she said. “I’m definitely glad that I went to Providence. I was able to be myself, play up more and be more of a leader. It was really fun playing with a group of girls who all have the same passion that I do. Everyone wanted to work on their craft every day and get better. We were determined to do that.”
In the next game, a 23-0 win over Berry, McCauley was 4-for-5 with three runs scored, three doubles, a home run and six RBIs.
McCauley would go 29-68 (.427 batting average) the rest of the way and hit safely in 14 of the Panthers final 15 games. She finished the season with a .467 average that included 44 RBIs, 36 runs, 35 hits including 12 home runs, six doubles and a triple.
With their new star leading the way, the Panthers rebounded from their 3-3 start, winning 19 consecutive games before falling 11-5 to Hickory Ridge in the second round of the playoffs.
The 22 wins were a school record for the Panthers, and McCauley was rewarded for her efforts.
The junior first baseman was named the So. Meck 7 Player of the Year. She earned all-state honors and was named the District 6 Player of the Year. She is also the 2018 Matthews-Mint Hill Weekly Softball Player of the Year.
“It gives me a lot of confidence,” she said. “I’m one of those people who when things aren’t going well, I get down on myself because I care about it so much. This season, everything we went through and what we worked for helped me grow as a person and change my mindset.”
The Panthers will graduate four key players, but return eight of their top 12 batters and all-state pitcher Carolyn Bentley, along with McCauley. Together, they’re thinking that next year can be just as good.
“It was an awesome experience and really cool to be a part of that. I loved experiencing all of that because I definitely missed that my first two years of high school,” McCauley said. “I feel grateful because all of the hard work I’ve put in has paid off, and now I’m bigger than just myself and I’m ready for it.”
Visit www.matthewsminthillweekly.com to see who made the Softball Super Team. The team includes players from southern Mecklenburg County.