KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (Feb. 14, 2011) - Head East Tennessee State University softball coach Brad Irwin makes his Buccaneer debut when he takes the Blue and Gold down the road to take on No. 4 Tennessee Tuesday evening. First pitch of the single game is set for 5 p.m. at Lee Stadium.
The Bucs, who went 21-35 a year ago, look to put the past in the rearview mirror and focus on a new era at ETSU. Senior Katie Henderson (Jackson, Tenn.) is the team's top returning hitter from a year ago after hitting a personal best .274 with a team-high six home runs in 2010. Meanwhile, fellow senior Jessica Duncan (Ooltewah, Tenn.) and junior right-hander Shelby Morris (Mt. Juliet, Tenn.) will share the number one pitching duties for the Blue and Gold. Duncan posted a team-best nine wins a year ago, while Morris earned three wins and three saves.
ETSU's roster features six upperclassmen - two seniors and four juniors - while nine underclassmen (five sophomores and four freshmen) will also be expected to contribute right away for the Bucs.
Saying the Bucs' opening day opponent will be a tough task is an understatement as the Lady Vols went a perfect 4-0 over the weekend at the Stetson Lead-Off Classic. Tennessee outscored Boston College, Michigan State and Stetson by a combined score of 44-2, while also hitting .475 as team and limiting its opponents to a .169 average. The Lady Vols' pitching staff recorded three shutouts and fanned 20 batters in 71 at-bats.
Fans unable to make the trip to Knoxville can follow all the action via live stats, courtesy of Gametracker.
Below is the 2011 ETSU softball season preview.
A new era is upon the ETSU softball program as head coach Brad Irwin begins his first season at the helm for the Bucs in 2011.
After going 21-35 and not reaching the conference tournament for the first time since joining the Atlantic Sun Conference in 2005, the Bucs are coming into this season with a new attitude and fresh start.
"We are coming into this season with a new approach on things, while putting the past in the rearview mirror and looking forward to the future," added Irwin. "We have only referenced last season once since I took over and the girls have been working extremely hard during the offseason. We are not a deep team, so we can ill afford any injuries, but I am excited to take the field on opening day and I really like the make-up of this team. This team will give it 100-percent each time they take the field."
The 2011 Buccaneer squad is made up of two seniors, four juniors, five sophomores and four freshmen, while senior leader Katie Henderson (Jackson, Tenn.) is the top returning hitter from a year ago and fellow senior righty Jessica Duncan (Ooltewah, Tenn.) is the top returning pitcher for ETSU.
Despite losing its top two hitters in Cheniece Cason (.372) and Lucy Schneider (.298), Henderson looks to build on her best season as Buccaneer. The Jackson, Tenn. native posted a personal best .274 batting average, while leading the team with six home runs.
"I have been very pleased with Katie's leadership both on and off the field during the preseason," said Irwin. "Katie is going to be one of the key run producers as she will hit in the heart of our lineup, and we look for her to build off a productive junior season."
Meanwhile, Duncan led the Buccaneer pitching staff with nine wins, a 3.63 ERA and 77 strikeouts. Along with Duncan, junior righty Shelby Morris (Mt. Juliet, Tenn.) will be called upon to be another ace of Irwin's pitching staff. Morris was used as both a starter and reliever in 2010 as she earned three wins and led the team with three saves. Joining Duncan and Morris, is freshman Katie Wolff (LaGrange, Texas). Wolff was a four-year letterwinner at LaGrange High School and named District MVP in 2008 and 2009. The LaGrange, Texas native went 23-5 with a 0.75 ERA as a junior, along with tossing 12 shutouts and 228 strikeouts. The talented righty also hit .440 with 11 doubles, three home runs and 32 RBI in 2009.
"Jessica and Shelby will be co-number one starters, while Katie will start her share of games as well," commented Irwin, who will rely on all three pitchers this season. "Both Jessica and Shelby are two different types of pitchers, and we will determine who starts based on matchups. Katie will see time as a starter and will also work out of the bullpen. She brings another dimension to our pitching staff."
The Buccaneer battery mates include Henderson, freshman Jackie Baird (Ooltewah, Tenn.), and sophomore Whitley Hensley (Erwin, Tenn.). Henderson carries the most experience behind the dish as she started 20 games for the Bucs last season; however, Henderson can also expect to see time at third when she's not catching. When Henderson isn't handling the catching duties, Baird and Hensley will split time behind the plate - and like Henderson - Baird will also see time at third.
"We are hoping Jackie can provide some pop in the lineup for us as a freshman," commented Irwin. "Like Henderson, Jackie will be counted on to drive in runs because she can hit the long ball and find the gaps as well.
"One thing I really like about this team is the versatility we have," added Irwin. "The majority of our players can be used at multiple positions, and this is a great resource to have. We are definitely going to take advantage of this strength."
Like coach Irwin said, the 2011 Buccaneer squad can play many different positions and Hensley can do just that as well. Hensley will see time at first, while she also played in right field as a freshman. Sophomore Arielle Garner (Buchanan, Ga.) - who was penciled in as the starting first baseman for the Blue and Gold in 2011 - will have to wait to take the field as she suffered a shoulder injury a week ago in practice. Garner started over 60 percent of the games at first a year ago, so Hensley and Wolff will need to step up and fill the gap as the Buchanan, Ga. native rehabs her shoulder.
"We have already suffered a big loss to our lineup in Arielle going down, but we are confident both Whitley and Katie can step in for us at first," said Irwin. "Hopefully we can get Arielle back in the lineup this season, because she is solid defensively and was hitting the ball well in practice."
Sophomore Sam Lower (Sebring, Fla.), who started in 39 of the 56 games for the Bucs as a freshman, will be the familiar face at second once again in year two. Not only is Lower solid defensively, but she will join Henderson and Baird in the heart of the batting order. Lower hit three home runs as a freshman and started 30 games at second. Splitting time with Lower at second in 2010 was Amy Campbell (Chattanooga, Tenn.), but Campbell is going to move to the right of Lower and be the starting shortstop for the Bucs. Campbell, a 2009 Atlantic Sun All-Freshmen selection, is one of the most experienced players on this team behind Henderson. In her first two seasons with ETSU, Campbell has played in 99 games, while making 95 starts. Joining Campbell and Lower in the middle infield slot will be sophomore local product Mikayla Treadway (Unicoi, Tenn.). Like a handful of players on the squad, Treadway is a useful individual as she can also play in the outfield. Treadway saw time in right as a freshman and will play at second in year two for the Bucs.
"Both Sam and Amy are going to need to produce both at the plate and in the field in order for us to be successful," said Irwin. "Sam is an outstanding second baseman and she is going to hit in the heart of the order. Likewise, Amy is a tremendous leader, because she stepped up to take over the role at short without ever playing that position at collegiate level. She has a strong arm and we are going to need her to get hits in the bottom of the lineup."
In the outfield, junior Annie Martin (Centerville, Tenn.) will see the majority of the time in left, freshman Nicole Fox (Peachtree City, Ga.) will play center, and junior Marlina Delisa (Tucson, Ariz.) will be in right. Martin is the team's second returning hitter as she posted a .269 average and scored 13 runs as a sophomore. The Centerville, Tenn. native made the majority of her starts in right, but she also spent time in the left. Meanwhile, Fox, a switch hitting outfielder, hit a blistering .615 (40-for-65) with 11 doubles, four triples and two home runs as a junior at Landmark Christian School in Georgia. She also drove in 19 runs and was 21-of-23 in the stolen base department, while guiding the War Eagle to a 5A Region Championship and State Sectionals. Delisa, a catcher who was moved to the outfield due to her strong arm, made 22 appearances in right last season. Joining the trio of outfielders will be sophomore Tara Hartnett (Snellville, Ga.) and freshman Sadè Johnson (Lawrenceville, Ga.), as they will both be used in both left and right.
"We have a great mix of veterans and youth in the outfield, but I think they can all cover a lot of ground with their speed," Irwin said. "Nicole is going to set the tone for us at the top of the batting order and she has the threat to move herself into scoring position with her speed. We are going to rely on her to be the spark and energize this team."
Despite losing five starters and six letterwinners from a year ago, coach Irwin and the Bucs hope the new era and hard work in practice carry over to the field in 2011.