For Lady Rams’ Hargett, the best is yet to come

For Lady Rams’ Hargett, the best is yet to come
April 23
00:00 2015
(Above: Photo by Craig T. Greenlee- WSSU pitcher Mercedes Hargett (33 in white) leads the CIAA in strikeouts.)

Here’s a chilling thought for CIAA softball teams. Mercedes Hargett is just beginning to scratch the surface of her potential in her second season at Winston-Salem State University (WSSU).

As a freshman a year ago, Hargett turned heads with scintillating performance as a starting pitcher who made the CIAA All-Tournament team. She posted a 14-8 record with 123 strikeouts (second in the conference in both categories). When Hargett wasn’t pitching, she put in time as a catcher and played both corner positions in the infield.

This spring, she’s putting up all-star-caliber numbers at the plate. At the start of this week, the sophomore from Havelock had a .366 batting average to go with a team-high 6 home runs and 21 RBIs.

Entering the final days of the regular season, Hargett the pitcher was 7-10 with a 4.38 ERA. Those are surprising numbers considering how she routinely handcuffs hitters. In 23 appearances, Hargett had 109 strikeouts, tops in the CIAA by a wide margin.

The win-loss numbers are somewhat misleading. Non-conference opponents have tagged Hargett for 23 home runs, but that’s not the only factor to consider.

The Lady Rams haven’t provided enough run support, and in too many instances, fielding errors have contributed heavily to losses in tightly-contested games. Against CIAA competition, though, it’s a different story. Hargett was 3-1 with a 2.33 ERA and she’s allowed only one home run all season.

“Over the years, we’ve developed a tradition of producing outstanding pitchers,” said Coach LaTaya Hilliard-Gray of WSSU. “Mercedes will be part of that tradition. I have no doubts that she’ll break some records by the time she’s finished here. Yes, she has velocity, but what sets her apart is ball movement.”

Hargett’s repertoire consists of six pitches (fast ball, screw ball, curve, drop-pitch, riser and change-up). One advantage she has over opposing batters is her ability to accurately throw to different locations around the plate while throwing at varying speeds.

The most significant area of improvement for Hargett this season is at the plate. As a rookie, she struggled and stumbled through a season-long batting slump. Given her level of offensive production in 2015, it’s hard to imagine that she hit .182 a season ago.

“There’s always room to grow,” said Hargett. “There’s always some aspect of the game for me to work on and improve on. Right now, I’d say that my progress is decent.”

Hargett’s disappointments as a rookie hitter fueled her desire to improve dramatically. Last summer, she went back to the basics and eventually recaptured the form that helped her earn post-season accolades during her prep career.

When Hargett returned for her second season, Gray sensed that she would make good on her promise to come back a better hitter than when she left. This season, she’s third in the batting order and has a team-leading slugging percentage of .645. “There’s no question about how much she improved over the summer,” said Gray. “She did all the necessary behind the scenes work to take her skill set to another level.

“Mercedes is a huge asset. She’s merged her talents to the point where she’s now a factor offensively and defensively. I’m just hoping that the consistency stays there.”

Hargett arrived at Winston-Salem State as a highly regarded recruit. She emerged as a standout player at Havelock High School and the showcase travel squads that play during the summer months. As things turned out, her rookie season as a Lady Ram proved to be an eye-opener on several levels.

“Time management was a big issue for me when I first got here,” she said. “After that first year, I had a much better handle on how I schedule my days. As an athlete, it was a culture shock for me. When I got to WSSU, I found out quickly that everybody else was a No. 1 at their high school just like I was at my school. So, that means that nothing is guaranteed. You have to compete hard every day to earn your spot on the team.”

It’s been a season of ups and downs for Winston-Salem State softball. With an overall record of 13-19 as of April 20, the Lady Rams will most likely face long odds to win the CIAA Tournament, which begins next Thursday (April 30) in Raleigh.

WSSU, 8-2 in league play, expects to make a strong run at this year’s conference championship trophy. Hargett is confident that her team will be ready to contend.

“We’ve had our struggles,” she said. “But what it all comes down to is what have we learned in going through those struggles. Every day presents an opportunity for us to work on getting better as individuals and as a team. So now, we’ll focus on performing well at the CIAA tournament at the end of this month.”

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Craig Greenlee

Craig Greenlee

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