She#8217;s landing for the Eagles

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 3, 2008

Lauren Childress was a star softball player at Franklin High School last year, and she’s turning into one as a freshman at Bridgewater College this year.

Childress is a third baseman for the Eagles, a switch from her shortstop position in high school, and with the exception of a short learning curve on defense, the transition has been relatively smooth.

“She has extreme quickness,” said Bridgewater coach Donnie Fulk, who is entering his 17th season as head coach. He has compiled an impressive record of 396 wins and 22 losses. “She makes diving stops to her right and to her left.”

But when she arrived on campus, Childress had some work to improve her defense.

“She was having trouble making the throw” from third, Fulk said. “But that’s behind her now. She looked for extra help.”

Her dad, Richard, is pastor of Franklin Baptist Church.

“She talked to me about” the transition to third base, he said. Lauren has worked hard to smooth out the kinks — “she’s an amazingly hard worker,” her father said.

Childress joins a team that enjoyed unparalleled success last year.

In 2007, the program won a school-record 40 victories while losing just eight.

The Eagles placed first in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference regular season standings with a 17-1 record and advanced to the conference tournament championship game, losing to Lynchburg College.

The team received an at-large bid to the NCAA Division III tournament, the program’s first-ever bid to the national playoffs. The Eagles advanced to the round of 16, losing in the regional title game to DePauw. Bridgewater was ranked No. 19 in the final 2007 Division III poll.

The Eagles also won another statistical title, leading Division III in runs scored with 8.48 runs per game.

This preseason, Bridgewater and Lynchburg College tied for the top of the 2008 ODAC Softball Coaches Poll. Both squads earned 91 total votes with Bridgewater receiving four first place votes to Lynchburg’s three.

In addition, Bridgewater was started the season as the No. 19-ranked team in a Division III softball poll.

The Eagles return six position players from that 2007 team,

But third baseman Lindsay Ware finished her four seasons last spring, a career that included being named to the All-State team last year and to the All-America team in 2006.

There were big shoes to fill.

“I think [Lauren] was intimidated when she first got there,” he dad said. Nut now, “I think she actually likes third base better than short stop.”

If Lauren was intimidated, it didn’t last long. She made the school’s Dean’s list with a 3.9 grade point average in her first semester. And that’s after receiving, in her coach’s words, “a sizeable” academic school scholarship. Division III schools do not offer athletic scholarships.

Her father, who was quick to point out that tuition, room and board at Bridgewater runs about $30,000 per year, she Lauren “sure did” get a sizeable scholarship.

Lauren parents make the three-plus-hour drive to Bridgewater, located in the Shenandoah Valley, for most weekend games. They’ve been to Myrtle Beach, S.C., and keep an eye on the road schedule when the Eagles get close to Franklin.

On the field, Bridgewater is 14-8 overall, 3-3 in the ODAC.

Childress, hitting mostly from the No. 7 spot in the lineup, is batting .321 with one homer and four RBIs in 21 games and 56 at-bats.

“She’s really coming on strong” recently said coach Fulk. “We think she’s going to be a force for us. She’s having a good season.”

Childress has had key moments in games already this season:

N when the team ran its winning streak to 10 last week a doubleheader sweep at Peace College. The Eagles won the opener, 6-3 in eight innings and then won the second game 10-4.

In the second game the Eagles scored two runs in the first and two more in the second and never trailed.

Kaitlyn Bowman and Jordan Burkholder each had two hits and two RBIs to lead the offense. Childress added two hits and Butler drove in a pair of runs.

N The Eagles picked up a pair of victories at the Snowbird Softball Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C., aided in part by Childress’ lone homer of the season.

The Fulk said something most coaches don’t say about freshmen halfway through their first season. Fulk compared her to the team’s former third baseman, Ware, the all-state performer.

“Lauren has a chance to get there” and be as good, Fulk said.

Fulk saw Childress play during summer leagues in Richmond, Salem and Myrtle Beach, S.C., and other locations.

“When I saw her play, we contacted her” to start the recruiting process.

“She’s quite a find,” the coach said.

The elder Childress, who admits being a father might cloud his judgment, said Lauren “I see her as one of the leaders of the team. As a freshman, she’s directing traffic” on the field and taking a leadership role. “That’s unusual.”

Said coach Fulk: “If you have any more like her down there, send ‘em along.”