Opposing pitchers facing the South Carolina softball lineup don’t have to get out just leadoff hitter Ashlyn Masters, whose batting average of .413 ranks eighth in the SEC. Now, they have to get her sister out, too.
For 10 of the past 13 games, Lauren Masters has batted in the No. 2 spot, and the tandem has played a key role in the Gamecocks’ seven-game winning streak as they head to Athens this weekend for an important SEC series against No. 15 Georgia.
Ashlyn, the senior right-fielder, loves that Lauren, the redshirt freshman third baseman, has emerged a regular.
“Our dream was to always play with each other,” Ashlyn said. “We didn’t know how it would work out. Now that it has worked out, it’s probably the best thing that’s ever happened in my life.”
Lauren, whose 2013 season ended prematurely because of a broken bone in her arm, feels the same way.
“I could not be more grateful for the chance to play on the field with her. To be able to look over and see my sister and have her be with me has been great,” Lauren said.
A circuitous path led the pair from Evans, Ga., to Columbia. Ashlyn attended Florida State before deciding to leave. She played the 2011 and 2012 seasons for Northwest Florida State, a junior college.
She planned to transfer to N.C. State, where Lauren had committed to play for coach Lisa Navas. When Navas and N.C. State parted ways after nine seasons in the summer of 2012, she was scooped up by USC coach Beverly Smith to serve as the associate head coach. The Masters’ sisters made the decision to follow Navas to play for the Gamecocks.
Navas looks at the sisters today and sees their full potential being realized.
“They aren’t a surprise to me,” Navas said. “They are blossoming into the players that I know they are, a little bull-headed and a lot of fun to be around. They just love playing softball.”
Ashlyn, who was SEC player of the week last week, ranks second in the league with 15 doubles to go with two triples, three homers, 23 RBIs and eight strikeouts in 104 at-bats. She leads the team with 43 hits and 29 runs scored. Lauren, who is batting .311, has compiled 18 RBIs in 45 at-bats.
“I’m so proud of her. She’s a go-getter,” Ashlyn said. “She likes to fight for what she wants, and this year, when her number has been called, she has produced. Her confidence has shot up.”
Lauren credits her sister for making her a better player, especially when they work out together.
“She has, definitely, been a key part of my success. We push each other every day,” Lauren said. “It’s something special to compete on the same field together and bring out the best in each other.”
Their personalities differ off the field. Ashlyn is the serious one – blunt and direct. Lauren is the funny one – easy-going and ready to crack a joke. Smith calls Ashlyn “Smashlyn” and Lauren “Little Masters” when filling out the lineup card.
“Ashlyn has been dialed in since Day 1. Lauren’s a tough at-bat following her sister,” Smith said. “It’s been neat having the sisters back-to-back.”
They have the same goal of getting USC (24-12, 5-7 SEC) to the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season. But Ashlyn doesn’t like to look too far ahead in her final go-around at the collegiate level.
“If we get ahead of ourselves, we forget about the present moment. To get to the future, you have to live in the now,” Ashlyn said.
She’s thrilled to be sharing the present with Lauren.
“At the end of the day, we are sisters and we have each other’s backs, someone to rely on and more than just a teammate,” Ashlyn said. “She’s my go-to best friend, and it’s good to have her on the field with me.”