‘It’s such a sweet moment’
HUNTINGTON — The drive to Marshall University includes roads Abbie Tolbert has grown accustomed to since she was a little kid growing up in Barboursville.
Tolbert’s road during her career at Marshall however? Well, it’s been a bit more of a winding path than the 20-minute trek down I-64 and into Huntington.
After pitching in only one game during her first two college seasons, Tolbert became a fixture in the circle in 2018.
And when new coach Megan Smith arrived, Tolbert became not only a leader in the circle, but also a pivotal leader in the clubhouse for a young team.
Part of the reason was because of the path Tolbert had taken to achieve success on the field — one of overcoming adversity and continued belief in her abilities.
All it takes is to ask Tolbert about her thoughts on her career path to see why Smith decided she was a top-shelf leader for the Thundering Herd.
“Obviously, I wouldn’t have envisioned sitting the bench for two years,” Tolbert said. “I always say it was God’s time and not mine. I think going through that has given me the character,
work ethic and the determination that I have, which makes me the player I am. In the beginning, I hated (sitting out), but looking back, I wouldn’t have asked for anything different and I wouldn’t change it at all.”
That ability to deal with adversity served her well in the circle as she consistently pitched around danger.
Perhaps the best example of this came recently in the Conference USA Tournament when Tolbert earned a pair of 1-0 wins over top seed North Texas to knock the Mean Green out of the tournament.
Marshall (39-20) makes its postseason debut at 1 p.m. Thursday when the Herd takes on George Washington University (42-16) as part of the Liberty Regional of the National Invitational Softball Championship in Lynchburg, Virginia.
There, Tolbert will match up with some of the nation’s better teams in an effort to continue to do what she loves — represent Marshall University.
“I get to rep the Herd for a little bit longer, and that’s obviously what I love to do,” Tolbert said. “Based on my reactions with strikeouts and plays, I think it’s very clear I love the Herd. And what better way? It’s such a sweet moment to do it a little longer.”
Smith did not mince words when discussing why Marshall chose to put in its bid for the NISC. Simply put, it was for players such as Tolbert and catcher Hayden Ellis, who waited patiently for their turns to emerge as leaders. Their leadership helped the Herd from a 25-win season in 2018 to a 39-win season in 2019 as they head into the postseason.
The first-year coach especially lauded Tolbert, who was on the team that went to the NCAA Tournament in 2017 but did not get a chance to see action.
This time around, the action will hinge on Tolbert.
“For her to come two years from that to now, being a 26-game winner and leading her team, that’s one of the reasons that we wanted this opportunity — for players like her,” Smith said. “She has worked extremely hard and had a lot of adversity, but stuck with it. She led our team this season and we did some really great things and she deserves to play in the postseason.”
Tolbert said Smith’s attention to detail in building a program is what helped her and her teammates grow throughout the year.
As Marshall heads into the NISC, the Herd has won 11 of its last 14 games and reached the C-USA Tournament championship game.
“Being able to see the process is a lot different from last year,” Tolbert said. “I think it enables us to see where we are growing and where we need to keep working. That’s super-important to be so organized and lay out the process to where we can see it.”
For the season, Tolbert is 26-16 with a 2.72 earned run average. In 234 innings, she has 172 strikeouts with 87 walks.
To put it in perspective, Tolbert’s 26 wins in the circle this season are more wins than the entire Herd output of 2018, signaling the growth of the team.
Now she gets to put her talents to the test in a postseason event, which Smith is eager to see.
“We’re excited to see her compete,” Smith said. “She’s fun to watch and we’re excited to see her for another week — hopefully, more than that.”
Marshall joins five other teams in the Liberty Regional. In addition to George Washington, other teams are Appalachian State, Rutgers, Liberty and Kent State.
There are four regions in the NISC, and the winners of each region meet May 24-26 in Fort Collins, Colorado, in the championship rounds.
NATIONAL INVITATIONAL SOFTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
Liberty Regional Game 2
MARSHALL (39-20) vs. GEORGE WASHINGTON (42-16)
When: 1 p.m. Thursday
Where: Kamphuis Field, Lynchburg, Va.
Radio: www.marshall. edu/wmul