Saying goodbye is never easy
Valerie Cagle made plenty of memories on the field for Clemson softball.

Saying goodbye is never easy

by - Senior Writer -

Who knew that a coaching change in Delaware would have a profound effect on the formation of the Clemson softball program, but that’s what happened. And now, it’s all history.

Clemson’s softball team lost 6-2 in an NCAA Tournament elimination game in the Tuscaloosa Regional Saturday, ending a season filled with highs and lows, injuries, elation and disappointment.

It was the final game in a Clemson uniform for 10 seniors, including sixth years Arielle Oda and JoJo Hyatt, fifth-years Alia Logoleo and Valerie Cagle, true seniors McKenzie Clark, Millie Thompson and Regan Spencer and Lindsey Garcia (graduate transfer), Grace Hiller (third year with program) and Julia Bomhardt (second year with team).

As the final pitches were thrown in Saturday's game, I couldn’t help but feel a little sadness for Cagle. Her final season didn’t turn out the way she would have wanted. It was a bittersweet moment for those of us who had the pleasure of watching her and her fellow seniors over the last several seasons. As head coach John Rittman told the seniors after the game, it was this group that built the program into a family, and while each of them played an important role in that building process, it was the humble yet competitive Cagle who stands out.

Cagle was homeschooled in Yorktown, Va., and initially committed to Delaware in December 2016. Current Clemson assistant coach Kyle Jamieson was the head coach at Furman at the time, and he saw Cagle in a travel ball tournament for the Hanover Hornets and tried to sway her into becoming a Paladin. But Cagle was firmly committed to Delaware, and Jamieson could only watch.

Clemson announced in March 2016 that it was starting a softball program, and Jamieson was hired on as an assistant coach in December 2017. The next summer, he was told that there had been a coaching change at Delaware and that Cagle had opened her recruitment. He quickly set up a visit for the next week—she came to campus on a Thursday—and committed to the Tigers a month later.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Cagle finishes her Clemson career with an 86-47 record on the mound with a career ERA of 1.72. She pitched in an incredible 243 games and started 114 of those with 79 complete games and 14 saves. Add in 819 strikeouts and a couple of no-hitters and it’s easy to realize she fashioned an incredible career.

But she didn’t just do it on the mound. She did it at the plate, too. She ends up with a .379 career average, 288 hits, 66 home runs, and 224 RBI. Considering she did all of this in parts of five seasons, it’s hard to envision many of those records being broken.

The 2021 season was perhaps her best on the mound – Cagle went an incredible 28-7 with five saves and an ERA of 1.16. The 2023 season was her best at the plate when she hit .469 with 19 homers and 57 RBI with an on-base percentage of .568.

It was obvious that she did interviews with us out of a sense of duty. She would flash a shy smile and decline to really talk about herself. Her comfort zone was on the field of play, and her smiles there were always saved for the ends of games. Otherwise, she was at work in her happy place. Her happy place became the happy place of thousands of fans who came to watch her play, filling McWhorter Stadium on cool late winter and early spring days. People would always ask, “What did Val do today?” Why? Because it seemed like she did something special daily.

Why write this? Because we aren’t talking about the end of the career of one of Clemson’s best female athletes. No, we can’t limit her in that way. She is, quite simply, one of the best to ever put on a Clemson uniform.

No matter where she goes, the spirit of No. 72 will always reside here. As much as head coach John Rittman can be credited with building Clemson softball, it’s Cagle who always deserves the credit for bringing the immediate excitement and sense of belonging to the fledgling program.

Thanks, Val, for the memories. And thank you, Delaware, for that coaching change.

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