Senior Salute is an exclusive GoMocs.com six-part series that details the careers of the six Lady Mocs softball seniors. The series will be posted over the next two weeks.
Senior Salute Archive:
May 8: Stiles' Speed is a Game Changer
Irwin Brings the Heat
By Phillip Pongratz, Student Assistant
During the 2010 season, senior relief pitcher Kandice Irwin set the Lady Mocs season-high mark for saves and became the all-time saves leader for Chattanooga and the Southern Conference.
"I really just focused on picking up the saves and the record just kind of happened," Irwin said. "It was surprising and exciting at the same time."
She set the single-season saves record on April 10, 2010 at Georgia Southern by closing out both games of a doubleheader. The two saves gave her 11 on the season, which would also be the last she would earn on the year. The number would hold up to lead not only the conference, but also the NCAA.
"Coach [Frank] Reed called me in the middle of the summer and told me," said Irwin when she found out about leading the nation. "I was really surprised and did not expect it at all."
Irwin began her career starting 37 games, winning 19 contests and throwing 12 complete games for the Lady Mocs before switching to reliever.
"It was a difficult change at first because my whole life I have always been a starter, but I like coming in as a relief pitcher," she said. "I am willing to do whatever is best for the team, and the move to a reliever worked out. I am really good at it and has changed my softball career for the best."
The switch to the bullpen began in the championship game of the 2009 Southern Conference Tournament against Georgia Southern. Irwin pitched the final four innings, giving up four hits and striking out four batters to pick up the victory in helping the Lady Mocs capture the tournament title.
The game against the Eagles was also the most memorable moment of her career for Irwin.
"It was here [at Frost Stadium] and I feel like Georgia Southern has been one of our biggest rivals over my four years here," Irwin said. "I did not start the game, but I came in to finish it and picked up the win."
She broke the season-high mark for saves with her eighth of the year in game two of a doubleheader at Georgia State, tying former teammate Brooke Loudermilk for the career record at Chattanooga with 10. In a milestone night for the program, classmate Tiffany Baker hit her 26th career home run to break the school's all-time mark.
In a mid-week doubleheader at Tennessee State a week later, Irwin broke the Lady Mocs' all-time saves mark in game one. She threw the final inning and struck out a batter.
For her career, Irwin has 19 saves ranking her fifth in the NCAA record book. Of those saves, six of them have come when she has pitched the final three innings, thus earning a save regardless of the score.
The Knoxville, Tenn. native's success in the circle has been highlighted by the conference as a three-time pitcher of the week and two-time pitcher of the month. Irwin was also selected to the 2009 SoCon All-Tournament Team.
In 2010, she had the great honor of being named second team All-Conference, which is very rare for a reliever. She compiled a record of 8-1 with four saves, a 0.91 earned run average and 54 strikeouts in 53.2 innings pitched during conference play.
"I knew that I had been successful, but I did not expect to be picked because mainly starters are chosen to those teams," Irwin stated. "I think most people think of a pitcher as a starter instead of a pitcher as a closer, especially in softball."
Along with SoCon All-Conference honors in 2010, Irwin was also named to the SoCon All-Academic Team. This year, she was selected to the Capital One Academic All-District IV third team and recognized to the All-SoCon First Team.
Growing up her parents, Steven and Karen, gave her pointers on how to pitch.
"My dad taught me how to pitch first. He played baseball and was like my coach growing up," said Irwin. "My mom has supported me through everything and was at every lesson. She started to understand a lot about pitching and tried to help me as much as she could."
At Chattanooga, Irwin has differentiated herself from the other pitchers on the team by throwing a fast and hard drop ball.
"She brings some heat," said pitcher Nikki Waters. "Kandice comes in throwing heat that drops and the opponents don't know what to do with it."
Irwin is also able to mix speeds with a slow-mo change-up that can fool hitters.
Baker describes Irwin as being a diverse player because she brings craziness to the team while in the dugout, but in the circle she has the ability to be mentally strong the next moment.
"She keeps us light when times might be a little tougher and has the mental approach that is amazingly strong," Baker stated. "She can go out and throw as many innings that is required. She has the ability go come back into the dugout, joke with you and then go back to pitch."
Some of the success that Irwin has had on the rubber is how she handles every little mistake. In high school, she was up tight about every little thing in the circle. Since starting her collegiate career, Irwin has loosened up and relaxed a bit and is not as worried about all of the small details.
Irwin is going to be graduating in December with her Bachelor's degree in exceptional learning. She will also be accredited to teach grades, K-12, but will be concentrating on being a middle school instructor when she begins her job search.
"I chose my major because I did peer tutoring in high school and liked working in the classroom," she said. "My mom is a teacher, so I have been able to draw upon her experiences."
What Irwin is going to miss the most about playing softball are her teammates.
"It will be different not seeing them everyday," she said. "I feel like not seeing them everyday is going to be completely different."
Along with finishing first on the career saves list, Irwin is also going to finish in the top ten in strikeouts, strikeouts per seven innings, wins, appearances and innings pitched. The Lady Mocs will miss Irwin next year by not having her in the bullpen to come in and pitch during tough situations.