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Softball: Lambert alum Guimbarda enjoys breakout year despite shortened season
Marissa Guimbarda
Lambert alum Marissa Guimbarda finished second in the nation this season with 11 home runs for Clemson. Photo courtesy Clemson Athletics

Marissa Guimbarda couldn't have predicted the way her season ended.

She did have an idea of how it would begin, though. 

Guimbarda knew halfway through Clemson's first practice that the Tigers would be no easy out, even in the program's inaugural season.

"I could see at the very first practice while our field was still being built — we were on a turf field. It was just bomb after bomb after bomb," Guimbarda said. "And yes, the field is a little bit smaller because it's a turf field, but the way the ball was jumping off my teammates' bats, I was like, 'Oh my gosh, we're going to be good.'"

Clemson finished the abbreviated season 19-8 overall and 5-1 in ACC play, while Guimbarda rose to second in the entire nation in home runs (11).

"It's unfortunate, because she was going to have just an outstanding year going forward," Clemson head coach John Rittman said.

Guimbarda, who graduated from Lambert in 2017, started the season with eight home runs in her first 16 games, including a four-game stretch in the middle of February where she smashed four homers and drove in nine runs.

More importantly, Clemson won all four games, which gave the Tigers a boost in momentum ahead of their first game against a ranked opponent, then-No. 14 Georgia. 

Clemson beat the Bulldogs 4-1, as Guimbarda scored what proved to be the game-winning run during a four-run fourth inning, beating a team that features 14 native Georgians and one from Forsyth County. 

Marissa Guimbarda
Guimbarda hit a state record 18 home runs in 2016 as a senior at Lambert. Photo courtesy Clemson Athletics
"I actually did know one girl — Shelby Suplee," Guimbarda said. "All the names are fairly familiar, just because of playing travel ball. But Shelby Suplee played on my very first softball team ever, the Dixie Darlings out of Sharon Springs, and we were just 5 years old together. So it was just crazy to see her in college; both successful and both living our dream."

The win launched Clemson into ACC play, where the Tigers promptly swept Virginia in a three-game series. 

Clemson then swept a mid-week doubleheader against Charlotte, took two out of three games from Pittsburgh, shut out Presbyterian and was about to board the bus to Georgia Tech when the players got the news.

The rest of the season had been canceled. 

"I think that my whole world has been flipped upside down," Guimbarda said. "I can't go to class, I can't go to the field, we're locked out of our facilities right now. I'm looking across my lot outside my window and my teammates' cars are not at their apartment. I don't know, it's just crazy. 

"I think that we're all just adjusting, but at the same time I'm also learning what it means to rest, and I think that I never really had time to rest because of how crazy college athletics are. It's been kind of nice in a way, but I'm at the point where I'm like, 'I'm ready to do something.'"

Guimbarda finished the season with a .368 batting average (28 for 76), 31 RBIs and a robust .868 slugging percentage.

It was an encore to her sophomore season at Furman, where Guimbarda hit .348 and slugged 16 home runs, earning Southern Conference Player of the Year honors.

Marissa Guimbarda
"I think for me, I just swing hard," Guimbarda said. "I think sometimes people try to place it. For me, I do have power, so I'm going to use my power, because that's a strength that I have. I just swing hard, and honestly sometimes I get lucky." Photo courtesy Clemson Athletics
"I think for me, I just swing hard," Guimbarda said. "I think sometimes people try to place it. For me, I do have power, so I'm going to use my power, because that's a strength that I have. I just swing hard, and honestly sometimes I get lucky."

Guimbarda was part of a one-two punch in the middle of Clemson's lineup this season, with freshman Valerie Cagle adding 10 home runs and leading the Tigers with 36 RBIs.

"We had quite the duo in the middle of our lineup with her and Valerie Cagle," Rittman said. "We really surrounded them with some really good hitters so they couldn't pitch around Marissa. She got a lot of good pitches to hit because of that and she took full advantage because of it."

The NCAA Division I Council voted Monday to give spring sports athletes an extra year of eligibility after the 2020 season was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Guimbarda, who will be a senior next season, said she would consider the option, noting "I love this team and I love the culture that Clemson has, so that is definitely something that I would be interested in."

Clemson could potentially return all of its players from this season, with just two seniors and impressive crop of freshmen. 

"I just look back on my freshman year, and I did not have the greatest freshman year, just because adjusting to college and college pitching is different — just a lot of things are different about being a freshman," Guimbarda said. "But our freshmen are good. They're all really good and they all compete, so I think in the future Clemson softball is going to be great."