N.C. State senior Caitlin Dent is no stranger to heroics. Granted, she wasn't born yet when her father, Bucky, became an unlikely Yankee hero in 1978, but no doubt she's heard the stories and seen the youtube videos. Dent would have seemed like an unlikely hero a year ago when she batted .213 with four home runs, but after her remarkable transformation under first-year skipper Shawn Rychcik, Dent has developed into someone you expect to deliver in the clutch.
And deliver she has. Dent has upped her average to .295 this year, and she is the only Pack player who has not struck out more than she has walked. She leads the team in free passes (25) and doubles (10); Dent is second on the team in runs scored (34), home runs (14), and RBI (47). She delivered a walk off home run to beat North Carolina and, most importantly, a two-run bomb Friday that sent N.C. State to the ACC softball championship game.
The Pack will face Florida State, a 3-0 winner over UNC in the semis, in the championship game Sunday at 6 p.m. on ESPN2.
Dent's two run home run gave the Pack (32-18-1) a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the fifth, and Emily Weiman made it stand up, stranding the sacks full of Hokies (35-19) in the top of the seventh when she fanned Bailey Liddle for the game's final out. It was the 30th win of the season for Weiman and the 11th straight "W" for the streaking Pack.
Check out highlights of the game below and then take a look at Caitlin's old man's swing in the second video. There are a lot of similarities in those swings, but Bucky wishes he had his daughter's power. He never hit more than eight home runs in a season.
But I'm not finished. It's easy to see why an N.C. State men's basketball player or football player would put in the countless hours of work it takes to make it to the next level. The NBA minimum salary is nearly half a million dollars. The rookie minimum in the NFL is a shade over $400,000 a year. In softball, there is no lucrative next level. Maybe Renada Davis will play for Team USA for a few years, and some of the players might one day eek out a living coaching in high school or college, but nearly all of these women are playing the sport not for future fame and fortune, but due to nothing more than a genuine passion for the game and for their teammates.
Readers of this blog know better than most the demands of pursuing a degree at N.C. State. Add to those demands the travel, practice time, and year-round workouts and you have a heavy load. Sure, a full scholarship pays for a top notch education that is worth tens of thousands of dollars, and even a partial scholarship helps out a lot with the ever-rising cost of a college education. But, like the commercial campaign says, these young ladies are going pro in something other than softball. But there's Dent sliding hard into second base, spikes up, to break up a force out, catcher Kristy Grant taking the pounding from Weiman's drop balls in the dirt, Weiman completing game after game as an iron woman on the mound, and women laying out left and right to make a play for their team.
No agent runners are in their ears after the game. Deep-pocketed boosters are not providing extra benefits. Rabid and overzealous fan bases do not hang on their every tweet. Major networks are not cashing in on their labor. Shoot, even at UNC softball players probably have to go to classes that meet and have syllabi.
Watching this team over the last couple of weeks has rekindled an innocent and naïve notion I have of what amateur sports, stripped of the big money and media spotlight, should be all about. These student-athletes, and student really does come first for most of them, are sharing a journey where the name on the front of the jersey means more than the name on the back, and it's a journey I hope ends in the all-too-rare Wolfpack conference championship.