BY CHIP CIRILLO
Libby Sugg is off to an uncharacteristically slow start, but her coach isn’t worried.
The Brigham Young catcher, a former Franklin star who was named to the USA Softball College Player of the Year watch list in the preseason, is hitting .184 with 10 RBI and one homer.
“First of all, she is the focus of every team we play so over her four-year college career teams learn how to work hitters and we’ve played some awfully good teams with extremely good pitching,” BYU coach Gordon Eakin said. “But I’m confident that she’ll turn that around.”
Sugg has hit some hard line drives that have been caught and Eakin said she needs to be patient to wait for the good pitches.
The 5-foot-7 senior’s slow start is puzzling, considering she hit .414 last season, .356 as a sophomore and .319 as a freshman. Her career batting average is .349, but she remains upbeat.
“Yea, it’s been a rough start, but it’s OK,” Sugg said. “I’ve got a whole season to figure it out. I think (pitchers) know what pitches I’m not as strong at and what pitches they can throw me to trick me, but I’ve just got to be 10 percent better, I guess.”
Sugg, who got married in June, hopes to return to last year’s form when she was a third-team All-American with 67 RBI, 11 home runs and a .500 on-base percentage.
She entered the year ranked in the BYU career top 10 in six offensive categories, including home runs (43), RBI (191) and batting average.
“Well, I think being on the watch list for player of the year says it all,” Eakin said. “You don’t get on that list without being a special talent. She deserves that recognition and her talent level matches that recognition.”
Sugg is known for her offense, but her defense has improved so much during the last two seasons that she’s developed into a complete player.
“I would say she is a clutch hitter in big situations.” Eakin said. “In big-time games, she’ll come through.”
She hit a pair of two-run homers in a 4-3 win over then No. 11 archrival Utah in the Deseret First Duel during her sophomore year in 2017.
“I was just on top of the world and it was just a fun atmosphere,” Sugg said. “There were so many people at the game.”
Sugg is looking forward to this week’s Tennessee Invite in Knoxville where BYU (9-9) will play Tennessee and Texas twice in the four-day tournament.
“Coach Eakin pulled me in his office in the middle of last year and said, ‘Libby, I talked to (Tennessee co-head coach) Ralph Weekly and he says we want to bring you home, so we’re going to go play Tennessee,’ ” Sugg said. “I was so excited because my whole family gets to come, my brothers that barely ever see me play, especially in college, my extended family is going to come. It’s just going to be amazing.”
A lot of her high school friends who attend Tennessee will also be there.
Sugg hit her first collegiate homer against Tennessee with a three-run shot in a loss to the Volunteers at a tournament in Tempe., Ariz., during her freshman year in 2016.
“It was pretty awesome, I’m not going to lie,” said Sugg, who went on to hit 18 that year. That tied her for 17th nationally.
Weekly recruited Sugg and initially she thought she might end up at a Southeastern Conference school. She had about 20 offers at Franklin, but picked BYU over UT.
Sugg has drawn 94 career walks.
“She has great hands and the ability to sit back on the changeup when it’s thrown to her,” Eakin said. “She has excellent bat speed on all pitches.”
There is still snow in the nearby Wasatch Mountains, so BYU won’t have its home opener until April 12 in Provo, Utah.
The Cougars have played early-season games in Mexico, Nevada and California.
BYU is seeking it 11th straight conference title and 15th consecutive NCAA Regional appearance. The Cougars were picked first in the West Coast Conference preseason poll.