By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – It was a busy week for Tech softball head coach Michelle DePolo and her staff as they wrapped up their first signees as four future Golden Eagles turned in their National Letters of Intent.
The fall Class of 2020 included Mackenzie Fitzgerald (utility/pitcher), Carmen Betts (infielder), Molly Gilbert (pitcher) and Brooklin Richardson (outfielder).
Not only have these four signees excelled on the diamond, they've also been excellent students, which follows the Tech Department of Athletics' mission of a diploma in one hand and a championship ring on the other.
"I'm very excited about the first four signees of the 2020 class," DePolo said. "Together they bring a great combination of offensive firepower at the plate and on the base path, strong defense all around, and pitching depth. Their competitive attitudes and real worker-type mentalities are going to keep the strong culture of our team going both on and off the field, and contribute to our perpetual pursuit of improvement."
First up is Fitzgerald, a standout player for Portland High School. As a junior, she hit .508, while posting a 1.527 WHIP. She tallied eight home runs, five triples, 18 doubles and had 64 total hits, while stealing 27 bases.
In the circle, she posted a 2.90 earned run average with 67 strikeouts in 127 innings of work.
"Mac can do it all," DePolo said. "She is a very athletic player and multi-faceted. Defensively she can play anywhere on field and has valuable experience on the mound. Offensively she is a threat at the plate and on the bases. We are looking forward to seeing all the ways she can contribute next year."
This past season, Fitzgerald won the team's awards for most home runs, RBI, extra-base hits and stolen bases as she was named the team's offensive player of the year. She was also named the Sumner County Most Valuable Player by Main Street Preps. In addition, Fitzgerald was an all-District 9-AAA selection as a freshman and a junior.
Fitzgerald played on the TN Mojo team – with fellow signee Richardson – who won the Triple Crown national championship. With the team in this fall season, she batted .517, had a 1.182 WHIP as she allowed no walks and recorded a flawless 1.000 fielding percentage.
An excellent student and currently in the top 10 percent of her graduating class at Portland, she is active in the Beta Club, HOSA and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Up next is Betts, who had a solid season last year as a junior at Virginia's Glen Allen High. Betts batted .403 with 25 RBI, while collecting seven doubles, a triple and two home runs. She came home to score 22 times and collected three stolen bases.
Betts has been competing with the Hanover Hornets travel team and hit .471 this fall.
In the Virginia High School League, Betts was a three-time all-Conference 5A second-team selection from her freshman to junior years. Also a member of Glen Allen's basketball team, she was a first-team all-Region 5A selection and named the team's captain and most valuable player last year.
"Carmen is another all-around solid player with a very competitive mindset," noted DePolo. "She is capable of playing any position on the softball field and really comes with the well-balanced offensive attack that we are looking for. It will be exciting to see the impact she has here at Tech."
A strong student in the classroom as well, Betts has been a three-time selection of the conference's all-academic basketball and softball teams.
Gilbert, a pitcher for Haleyville (Ala.), has seen a lot of innings in the circle, working 103 1/3 frames as a sophomore as she struck out 115 to 47 walks. Opponents hit .229 against her.
Playing on the high school's varsity team since her seventh grade year and starting for six seasons thus far, Gilbert set school records for lowest ERA and most strikeouts in a season. She has played five seasons of basketball, earning all-area basketball honors by the Florence (Ala.) Times Daily.
Gilbert has fared well in club competition with the Birmingham Vipers. She is an excellent student, joining the National Honor Society, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and a spot as an alternate in the Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership program.
"Molly is a very experienced pitcher with a tremendous upside in her future," DePolo added. "She has played against strong competition from around the country in her travel ball experience. She is always seeking to get better which will serve her well as she finishes high school and continues into her college career."
Another Tennessee addition, Richardson has shown great numbers in her sophomore and junior campaigns at Maryville. She currently has a .459 batting average with 56 hits, including five doubles and four triples. She has driven in 22 runs, while scoring 36 times. She has 21 stolen bases and a flawless 1.000 fielding percentage in the outfield. She batted .520 during her junior campaign.
Richardson was named all-state in 2019 as she was a two-time all-District 4-AAA and three-time all-Region 2-AAA selection. This past season, she was on the district all-tournament team. Richardson was a member of TN Mojo's Triple Crown national championship team, along with fellow signee Fitzgerald.
"Brooklin is just a real gritty, get down to work player," DePolo said. "She brings a look from the left side of the plate, along with the speed and quickness we need in a balanced lineup. Her passion for the sport of softball and Tennessee Tech are infectious."