MILLEDGEVILLE — If they care about her mental health, Mandy Chandler’s teammates will do a little extra this weekend in hopes of adding another weekend or two to their season.
The longer Georgia College & State’s softball team plays, the longer Chandler can put off carrying the label of “former college softball player.” And the happier she’ll be, for a few reasons.
“That’s what we keep telling everybody,” Chandler said of GCSU’s seven seniors. “Let’s keep going. We can’t stop. I can’t go cold turkey.”
The Bobcats open their fourth straight NCAA postseason trip today when they play Lenoir-Rhyne in the Southeast Regional in Hickory, N.C. If they win, they will advance to a super regional next weekend. If they win there, they will be in the College World Series in Salem, Va., later this month.
Chandler, as the Bobcats’ No. 1 pitcher, will obviously have a huge say in extending her career. After all, the right-hander has been the pitcher of record in 134 games in four seasons at GCSU, winning 71.6 percent of the time.
And she’s not ready for her career to end, not by a long shot.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” said Chandler, a regular member of a conference or region all-academic team in her four years. “It’s sad. Senior day was really rough. We love this place. It’s really hard to leave.”
Equally vital to GCSU’s chances is senior outfielder Sherquita Bostick, one of only two players in Peach Belt Conference history to be voted the conference player of the year twice. Considering she has played in the Peach Belt for only two seasons, that’s quite a statement.
Those two — along with GMC alum Haley Holloway, Tonya Medders, Kori Pickowitz, Lindsay Swanson and Chelsea Wilson — hope to finish their GCSU careers in style.
No matter what happens this weekend, an era is ending for the Bobcats with the departures of Chandler and Bostick. Both have had a massive impact on the program, which has flourished under fourth-year head coach Ginger Chaffinch.
Chandler is 96-38 and has averaged 228 innings pitched a season with a high of 263 this season. She has 1,091 strikeouts and a variety of school and conference records in that category.
Bostick has the second most home runs in program history (19) in just two seasons, and she is six out of first. She is one triple from second on the program’s list, and barring a slump, she’ll finish third in career average (currently .376).
And the two standouts are about as different as different can be.
Chandler has been with the program four years, twice as long as Bostick. Bostick is an elite athlete who has all the tools a player can hope for in softball or almost any other sport.
“I’ll be the first one to tell you this, and nobody believes me anymore because I have a pretty decent record,” Chandler said with a laugh. “I don’t have any talent. I’m just a really hard worker. I have no natural ability. I’m about one of the most unathletic people you’ll ever meet. I can’t play any other sports.”
Both are extraordinarily coachable, in different ways. Chandler knows what Chaffinch is going to say and is quick to correct herself. Bostick listens to what Chaffinch says and does it.
They may bear little in common athletically, but each has an ability to take over.
“Mandy knows what she’s doing wrong, and she fixes it,” said Chaffinch, who pointed out that Chandler has never been 100 percent healthy since her arrival. “Quita, it’s like she’ll go out there and say, ‘OK, we need a double, I’ll get a double. I need to hit one out, I’ll hit one out.’ There have been times where it really seems like that.”
Chandler didn’t come from a softball powerhouse in high school at Eastside in Covington, so her recruitment was minimal. She called Chaffinch, who signed her in hopes of simply getting a quality pitcher for one end of doubleheaders.
“As soon as we started practice, I knew that wasn’t going to be the plan anymore,” Chaffinch said. “She is just a worker. Don’t take this bad, but there are people that are more talented than her. She’s just a sheer worker. She is one of the most mentally tough players I’ve ever coached.
“She’s one of those pitchers that when things aren’t going our way or the defense is not making plays, she’s ‘You know what, I’ll do it myself.’ Clearly, she has good stuff, but it’s way more than that for her.”
Chandler is atop the school list in wins (by 56), strikeouts (by 763) and shutouts (by 16), and is fifth with a 1.92 ERA.
Bostick leads GCSU in virtually every notable offensive stat except walks, hit by pitch, sacrifice bunts and steals.
The 5-foot-8 switch-hitter from Florence, S.C., roams center field and bats leadoff, putting extreme pressure on the opposition. Infielders have to play on the grass and outfielders are in the shadow of the fence.
“If she can hit the ball on the ground, she’s safe,” Chaffinch said. “And then she can hit it out. The defense doesn’t know what to do.
“She throws like a guy. She has a cannon for an arm, and she can run any ball down.”
Bostick was a conference player of the year as a sophomore at Santa Fe (Fla.) Community College in the Mid-Florida Conference, hitting .527 with 16 homers and 78 RBI. The transition from junior college to top-25 Division II was apparently nonexistent.
“The pitchers have different movement with their ball compared to the junior colleges,” she said of the difference. “We had a pitcher that was kind of like Mandy. She threw a rise ball, and it always really got us, so I’ve been working around pitchers like Mandy.”
Chaffinch has watched Bostick for two seasons.
“Clearly, she just amazing,” Chaffinch said. “It’s very simple for her. She just reacts. We’ve tweaked some things here and there, but she’s sheer, raw talent.”
And now the two rare talents are nearing the end of memorable careers.
Ironically, Chandler made her first appearance in the NCAA record books against today’s opponent. The then-freshman struck out 23 Lenoir-Rhyne batters in the 2006 region semifinal, setting the Division II single-game strikeout record.
Coming close to that again would give the Bobcats quite a boost on the road in postseason, and that momentum would help keep GCSU in uniform longer.
Which is good for Chandler, who has appeared in 158 of GCSU’s 221 games in four seasons.
“I can’t quite let go yet,” she said. “We have to keep winning.”