South Carolina softball hitting coach Matt Lisle has more than 127,000 Twitter followers. That’s more than Frank Martin and Dawn Staley. That’s more than Sindarius Thornwell and A’ja Wilson. That’s more than Connor Shaw and Stephen Garcia.
“I don’t have social media,” said USC shortstop Kenzi Maguire, “so, no, I don’t follow him.”
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“I think I only follow him on Instagram,” said utility player Cayla Drotar. “Can’t let that head get too big.”
“I almost unfollowed him because of how many followers he has,” said catcher Alyssa VanDerveer. “Don’t tell him that.”
Lisle can accept the playful ribbing because his players have accepted his coaching. What’s different about the Gamecocks as they head into their sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament? Try the social media-savvy hire Beverly Smith made last summer.
“I think he’s brought a tremendous amount of confidence to the players,” said the eighth-year head coach. “He’s come in with a really solid offensive approach, and our players have bought into it.”
USC is the top seed at its own Columbia regional for the first time since 2002. The Gamecocks have set a program record for home runs (61), and they have a commanding lead among SEC teams in number of times being hit by a pitch (71).
Such statistics back a couple Lisle principles – swinging with a high launch angle; on-base percentage is life – that can be heard not only in the Carolina clubhouse, but on the TheHittingVault.com.
The site, launched four years ago, is Lisle’s baby – and the key to his mass Twitter following.
“Social media, even in 2014, was not where it is now,” Lisle said. “There were a lot of swing gurus online, but their websites were getting old and they hadn’t really gotten over to social media.
“So it was a lot of luck, actually. I said, ‘Hey, I’m going to start sharing everything I know on social media, start to build some of the fan base first. I’ll try to build this website and kind of share all my secrets on it, my drills.’
“Honestly, it just kind of had a domino effect.”
His followers range from Major League Baseball players to various coaches to Michael Fishman, the actor who once starred as “D.J. Conner” on Roseanne.
“I’ve talked to him,” Lisle said. “It’s all walks of life.”
Smith followed Lisle long before she signed him to replace Calvin Beamon in July 2017. Lisle’s pre-USC résumé includes coaching stints at Menlo College (head coach), Santa Clara, Cal State-East Bay, Oregon, Gallaudet University (head baseball coach) and Pattern University (baseball).
Only two of those schools compete at the Division I level.
“I had followed him because he puts out good stuff,” Smith said. “Whether it be a drill or a quote, he always had good stuff. Or I’d see his stuff that got retweeted. But I think in the coaching circles, his name is very well-known.”
Lisle was the featured speaker at the 2014 National Fastpitch Coaches Association Convention. The native Californian became a Gamecock three years later.
“It just kind of fulfilled what I’ve been building all those things for,” Lisle said. “I spoke at the softball convention in 2014, right when I launched the Hitting Vault 1.0. For me, I was trying to interview for this job.
“For me, all of the social media, all of the website, everything was trying to present it to someone like Bev to say, ‘Hey, I can bring some value to your program. This is the job I’ve been looking for.’”
South Carolina is seeking its first College World Series appearance in more than two decades.
The .281 hitting Drotar might not follow Lisle on Twitter, but she said, “When I'm at the plate now, I trust myself more because he believes in me so much.”
VanDerveer has hit six more home runs this year than last year. “We joked around at the beginning of the year that I’m not allowed to hit ground balls,” she said. “Now I think about hitting line-drives, which turn into (home runs).”
Maguire leads the Gamecocks in OBP. “He keeps things light,” she said. “He uses his videos, but he doesn’t make us watch them. He just kind of comes to practice and has his ideas of what we need to do and how we need to do it, and it’s worked this season.”