Freshman shortstop shines as starter for softball team

Most of the Central Michigan softball team's starters are upperclassmen, but one underclassman sticks out for the Chippewas.

Freshman shortstop Morgan Gardner has started 26 of the 30 games she’s played in this season, more than any other freshman on the team.

Gardner has a hitting average of .213 with 17 hits and is tied for third on the team in RBIs with 14. In the field, the right-hander has 34 putouts and only seven errors on the season, holding a .903 fielding percentage.

Gardner said thanks to her teammates, she doesn't have to think about her lack of experience when she is on the field.

“It is pretty exciting to just be a part of a team like this one,” she said. “I know they always have my back and are very uplifting when things get tough, so I haven't had to deal with a lot of extra pressure.”

The Armada native played four years at Romeo High School. Gardner was the Macomb county Player of the Year in 2015, while making the All-District and All-Region first teams her freshman through junior seasons.

Gardner’s journey to becoming CMU’s starting shortstop didn't start with her playing the position.

“I’ve always had a pretty good arm and OK range so they would always throw me into the middle infield somewhere,” Gardner said. “I take pride in playing shortstop now because I used to play second base a lot. When I got a chance at shortstop, I proved I could play it and I love it. It’s just a more fun position to me.”

When arriving on campus and joining the team, Gardner said one particular player really gave her a place to turn to when she needed it. That player is senior Evelyn Lorimer. 

“(Lorimer) is a great person to look up to and is so well-rounded as a human,” Gardner said. “She is very open to helping all of the time, and never looked at me differently even though she is much older.”

Lorimer said the impression Gardner left has stuck with her ever since. 

“(Gardner) is a gritty freshman and I love her to death,” Lorimer said. “She just came in with so much confidence from day one, more confidence than I’ve seen from a freshman in a while, and that stuck with me. It reminds me of (senior pitcher) Rachael (Knapp) her freshman year when she came in and owned it.”

Head Coach Margo Jonker said Gardner has impressive traits as a player and person.

“(Gardner) is a really nice person that never wants to think too much about herself, she’s always putting others before her,” Jonker said. “In the game, she leads with her actions on the field, and has really become a great asset to what we have on this team. She can drive in runs and play the infield cleanly.”

Gardner said she doesn't feel the pressure of having to carry the defense because of how the team functions.

“I don’t really ever feel like I have to be a leader because I’m the shortstop," Gardner said. "My team is very good at all of their positions. Everyone always talks on the field, so it’s not really like a leadership position on this team at least because we all look to each other.”

Knapp said the things Gardner does behind the scenes is what separates her from other freshmen. 

“(Gardner) is pretty awesome as a person and has done well maturing as just a freshman,” Knapp said. “She has a high-energy level most of the time, and uses that every day in practice. Being a hard worker all the time is what she is great at doing.”

Gardner shared Knapp's sentiments.

“I don’t really have anything I do outside of softball to get my mind away from it because I love being around it,” Gardner said. “I try to pretty much grind all of the time to get better.”

The Chippewas (23-11, 8-3 Mid-American Conference) have won three of their last four games. Gardner said her goal for the season is to win a MAC Championship. 

“That’s what I want more than anything out of this season,” she said.