The home run leaderboard for Georgia State softball changed on Saturday afternoon at the Heck Softball Complex when senior third baseman and catcher Callie Alford blasted a solo home run in the sixth inning vs. South Alabama. The homer was Alford’s 33rd for her career, setting a new Georgia State record.
Alford’s record-setting moment
Even as Alford was closing in on putting her name at the top of the Panthers’ home run charts, it was not something that was on the brains.
“I’m just very grateful, obviously,” Alford said. “It’s not something that, me personally, I thought about a lot. I knew I was sort of getting close. I had several home runs early in the season. [Head Coach] Roger [Kincaid] sort of made a comment to me that I was getting close up to it.”
Alford tied the previous mark of 32 when the Panthers defeated Kennesaw State on March 26 by a final of 16-1 in six innings via the run rule.
Advice for hitters
As a senior, Alford is now in the position that Nowacki was a couple of years ago when she was a senior and Alford a sophomore. She had advice for players that wish to develop their swing to be more conducive to power-hitting.
“Have a mental approach in the box,” Alford said. “Every pitch is different. Your approach can change during your at-bat and that’s what I’ve learned, really, these past two seasons. The most out of anything is to enhance your mental game as much as you can because a lot of what we do is mental.”
“When I tied the record, it almost seemed like a perfect game,” Alford said. “We run-ruled Kennesaw State, our crosstown rival. When [the record breaking] sort of happened, it took away from it some. But, it’s like I told Roger [Kincaid] — I don’t plan on stopping here. I plan to keep going and hopefully hit a few more before the season’s over so they will count for something.”
The previous records
On many occasions when new records are set, the previous record holder is someone who once played with the team about a decade ago. In the case of Alford, she broke the top mark of two former Panthers that were on the team only a few years ago.
The record Alford broke was previously held by former players Lauren Jones and Paige Nowacki. Jones, a first baseman played for Georgia State from 2008-2011, who in addition to her 32 HRs, also plated in 132 runs. The 132 RBIs have Jones at third in Panthers history for that category.
Alford’s first season with Georgia State was also the first after Jones graduated.
Nowacki wore Panthers blue and white from 2010-2013, in which she was a teammate of Alford’s for her first two years with the softball team. Along with her knocking 32 softballs out of the park, she was the team leader in homers in 2012 and 2013 and made the All-CAA Conference Team in 2011, the year Georgia State won the conference title.
Alford said that the record once being shared by Nowacki added a unique dimension to the accomplishment.
“I haven’t actually talked to Paige [Nowacki] or Lauren [Jones],” Alford said. “I remember when Paige set it, I believe it was during my freshman or sophomore season. When Paige set it, she was obviously someone that I looked up to as a hitter. Great power hitter, always batted in the four-hole, very similar players. Played third base. Always looked up to her.”
She remembered her sophomore season which was the senior year for Nowacki when she hit six home runs during the 2013 Panther Invitational from Feb. 16-17 of that season. Nowacki hit her 32nd on March 26, 2013 in a 1-0 win over Kennesaw State.
Nowacki would tie the record but would not get homer number 33. Shortly after tying the record, she broke her wrist, sidelining her for four weeks.
“Right when she tied it we were at Hofstra and I remember watching her get hit in the hand her senior season,” Alford said. “She fractured her wrist, and I remember it was heartbreaking for me, so I can’t imagine what that felt like for her. It sort of meant a lot to me. Obviously I feel like Paige might have hit some more home runs if she was able to keep playing.”
Alford credited Nowacki with setting the tone for the player she would become during her first two years with the team.
Developing a power swing
At one point in time, Alford says that she was not a home run hitter. When she played high school softball at Heritage High in Conyers, Georgia, she was more of a contact hitter as she was coached by Dickie Hightower, a former Georgia State assistant.
“Now I [see myself as a power hitter],” Alford said. “High school ball is a little bit different than college, obviously. I batted leadoff for my high school, actually.”
She credits Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach Melissa Schmitz for the training program the Panthers are under. Alford also cites the maturation process as another big help.
“I look sometimes back at my freshman year and some of the approaches I would have stepping into the batters box or lack of approach stepping in. And now I have an approach every at-bat. Every pitch is different. It’s a lot more mental game, especially hitting is a lot more mental.”
Hitting them out at home
Smashing long ones over the fence can be different based on if the home runs are occurring at one’s home field or if they are on the road. Alford says the homers she has hit at the Heck Softball Complex were more memorable than those she hits on the road.
“Whenever you travel, obviously it’s a lot more tough than playing at home,” Alford said. “Whenever I do remember my home runs, I always remember my home runs hitting them at home. I do remember a couple of the home runs [on the road], hitting them in big games, like the Georgia games when we beat them both times.”
The Panthers have defeated the Bulldogs in Athens, Georgia the last two seasons. Georgia State defeated UGA, 10-7 in eight innings on April 24, 2013. Alford hit a home run in that game to help the Panthers’ cause.
Georgia State won 4-2 last year over the Bulldogs behind a two-run homer from Mandy Blackwell.
“I always remember my home runs at our home field a lot more. Whenever we’re away, I don’t ever think about hitting a home run or remembering it. I guess just because of how much we practice at home, and everything like that. But, it helps a lot. We play on bigger fields sometimes and smaller fields sometimes,” Alford said.
Not only Alford
Alford may have set the home run record, but she is not the only one that can hit a softball out of the park. As of March 31, the Panthers have three players that are in double-digits for home runs: Alford, Megan Litumbe and true freshman Ivie Drake.
Last season, the Panthers set a team record for most homers hit in a season with 59. Taylor Anderson led the way with 14 while Alford hit six over the fence.
“Since my freshman year, this year, I think we’ve had the most stout lineup thus far in the past four years I’ve been here,” Alford said. “It is a testament to our recruiting that one through nine [in the lineup] can all hit home runs.”