PANTHERSVILLE, Ga. (Feb. 10, 2012) – After weeks of practice and preparation, the ETSU softball team will finally take to the diamond for the first time in 2012 as the Bucs make their season debut on Saturday afternoon in the Georgia State First Pitch Classic in Panthersville, Ga.
The Bucs, who open tournament play with Western Carolina on Saturday afternoon at 2:30 p.m., also face host Georgia State at 4:45 p.m. On Sunday, ETSU wraps up round robin play with Longwood at 10 a.m., while all four teams will then be seeded for a championship and consolation game, beginning at 12:30 p.m.
Tickets for the tournament are $5 per day and can be purchased at the gate or on Ticketmaster.
All games of the Classic will be available via live stats on GeorgiaStateSports.com.
Below is a preview for the 2012 ETSU softball season.
When talking to ETSU head softball coach Brad Irwin, his team’s motto heading into the 2012 season is, “Getting better every day.”
“We’re excited to begin the 2012 season,” said Irwin. “The team and staff have been working very hard with the focus on getting better every day and competing each time we take the field. We are definitely deeper this year than last season, and that in itself, is fostering more competition for positions.”
Irwin, who is entering his second season at the helm, saw Sam Lower (Sebring, Fla.) and Katie Henderson (Jackson, Tenn.) come away with all-conference honors a year ago, while the team now has a year under their belt in Coach Irwin’s system. In addition, the coaching staff also brought in their first recruiting class, so the foundation is beginning to be laid as the Bucs continue to work hard and steer the ship in the right direction.
While Lower returns for another season, Henderson was one of two seniors who graduated; however, ETSU brings back 12 letterwinners and eight starters from a year ago.
Despite being picked to finish last in the preseason conference polls, the Bucs hope to use that as motivation and look to get better each time they take the diamond.
The infielders consist of a mixed group of veterans and underclassmen as the left side of the diamond will be filtered with a strong showing of Sam Lower at short and senior Amy Campbell (Chattanooga, Tenn.) at third. Meanwhile, on the right side of the field, sophomore Katie Wolff (LaGrange, Texas) and freshman Mariam Wood (Soddy Daisy, Tenn.) will split time at first, while freshman Haley Thompson (Nicholson, Ga.) will be penciled in at second. Along with this grouping of players, junior Mikayla Treadway (Unicoi, Tenn.) and sophomore transfer Casey Horner (Whitesburg, Tenn.) bring some added depth to the infield slots as well.
“We return Sam coming off an all-conference season, and we look for her to provide offensive production in the middle of the lineup and drive in runs,” Irwin said. “We have a senior in Amy Campbell, who we expect to anchor our infield at third defensively. At second, we have a promising freshman (Haley Thompson) who is an outstanding defensive player and we are excited to see what she can contribute to the team. With the departure of Arielle Garner at first, we look for Katie Wolff and Mariam Wood to give us a spark. We bring some depth in the infield positions with Mikayla Treadway and Casey Horner.”
Last season, Lower started 36 games at short and enjoyed a breakout season as she was named First Team All-Atlantic Sun after raising her batting average over 110 points from year one to year two. Lower led the team in hitting and ranked fifth in the conference with a .353 average, while also tying for the team lead with 47 hits.
After spending most of her junior season at second, Campbell moves back to third where she has started 73 games during her time in the Blue and Gold. Not only does Campbell carry the most experience among the infielders, but also the entire team, as the Chattanooga, Tenn. native has played in 147 (143 starts) of the 159 games played since arriving to Johnson City back in 2009. After beginning her career with Atlantic Sun All-Freshmen Team honors in 2009, Campbell looks to cap off her senior season with the same success as she plays a vital role both defensively and offensively.
As Lower and Campbell have combined for 235 games played (229 starts), the makeup of ETSU’s right side of the infield – Thompson, Wolff, Treadway, Wood, and Horner – have only played in 78 games with 53 starts. Wolff, who made six starts at first base as a rookie, posted 21 hits (four doubles) and drove in 11 runs, while also making 30 appearances in the circle for the Bucs. While Garner was the most experienced first baseman out of the group, she decided to leave campus after the fall semester, which opened the door for Wood to get more reps at the corner. Wood brings a winning attitude to the team after she helped guide Soddy Daisy to a 52-2 record en route to capturing the Class AAA State Championship in 2010. Along with Wood, Thompson led her high school team to three regional championships and was a three-time Regional Player of the Year selection at Prince Avenue Christian School.
The ETSU outfield will be led by sophomore Nicole Fox (Peachtree City, Ga.) in center, while junior Tara Hartnett (Snellville, Ga.) and senior Annie Martin (Centerville, Tenn.) will split time in left. In right, freshman Alex Everett (Soddy Daisy, Tenn.) has been awarded the starting position for opening day, while fellow freshman Lily Robins (Collierville, Tenn.) and sophomore Sade Johnson (Lawrenceville, Ga.) can also see some time in the outfield.
Fox started all 48 games in center as a freshman and she gives the Bucs an option to either slap or power slap as a leadoff hitter. The Peachtree City native led the Blue and Gold with 10 stolen bases, ranked second in runs scored (23) and was third in hits (39) during her rookie campaign.
After seeing limited action as a freshman, Hartnett was the consistent starter in left for ETSU in 2011. Hartnett played in 41 games, making 34 starts in left – and after hitting .480 (12-25) this past fall – Irwin and the Bucs hope those numbers carry over into the spring. Martin, who only played in 12 games in 2011, sat out the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury, but she returns healthy for a final season and hopes to give the Blue and Gold some consistency in the lineup. The Centerville, Tenn. native has combined for a .275 batting average in her two full seasons for the Bucs, and she also gives ETSU some versatility in the outfield as she has made 35 starts in right, 22 in center, and 16 in left for the Blue and Gold.
“Our outfield will be led by Nicole in center,” added Irwin. “We look for Nicole to give us solid efforts defensively, and set the table as our leadoff hitter on offense. Tara had a tremendous fall and we are excited to see if she can carry that over to the spring season. We also return Annie from an injury and she will help strengthen our outfield as well as give us the option to use her as a designated player.”
Meanwhile, some underclassmen give Coach Irwin some working options in right as Everett made some noise in the fall, while Johnson returns for a sophomore season and gives the Bucs speed along with a strong arm in the outfield. Everett carried over her successful high school numbers to the fall season – where she hit .364 (8-22) for the Blue and Gold. Like Wood, the Soddy Daisy native helped contribute to the championship season for the Trojans as Everett was named MVP of the championship game.
“Like Tara, Alex was impressive in the fall for us offensively and we look for her to contribute. Depth wise in the outfield, Sade can step in and play, while Lily gives us another valuable option in one of those three slots.”
One thing is for certain, if the Bucs want to make progress from a year ago, ETSU’s pitching staff will need to improve heading into the 2012 campaign. A year ago, the Bucs posted a 5.31 team ERA, and after working hard during the fall season, ETSU hopes to see that number decrease dramatically this year.
“As far as pitching, the pitchers as a group worked really hard in the fall and it’s no secret we have to perform better in the circle this season,” said Irwin. “Shelby, Kara, and Katie will all be relied on heavily, while Whitney provides us with a fourth arm and is working to become a better pitcher.”
In 2011, Katie Wolff had the lowest ERA on the staff (4.72), but Shelby Morris (Mt. Juliet, Tenn.) returns for her final season and is the leader of the rotation. With the departure of Jessica Duncan (Ooltewah, Tenn.) – who led the team in nearly every statistical category in 2011 – Morris will look to anchor a young pitching staff.
New to the rotation this season are freshmen Kara Woods (Erwin, Tenn.) and Whitney Leon (Dandridge, Tenn.). Woods, a local product from Unicoi County High School, compiled quite the resume as she helped guide the Devils to the 2009 AA State Championship title. Woods recorded over 130 total wins, 1,100 strikeouts, and an ERA below 1.00 during her high school career. Meanwhile, Leon was a multi-sport athlete at Jefferson County High School, where she garnered IMAC Pitcher of the Year honors.
Behind the plate, the Bucs are loaded with catchers as Jackie Baird (Ooltewah, Tenn.), Whitley Hensley (Erwin, Tenn.), and Marlina Delisa (Tucson, Ariz.) all return for another season with the Blue and Gold, while Wood and Robins can also fill in if needed.
“Jackie started off last season with a hot bat and we need those solid numbers from her for the entire year in the middle of the order,” said Irwin. “Unfortunately, Whitley will miss some time due to injury, and it’s disappointing since she had a solid fall. We are eagerly anticipating her return come late March. In addition to Jackie and Whitley, Marlina, Mariam, and Lily will provide depth behind the plate.”
With Henderson graduating last May, Baird will see more time behind the plate in 2012. Baird, who made nine of her 48 starts at catcher, was hitting .341 (30-81) with a five doubles, a triple, four home runs, and 24 RBI in her first 30 games a year ago. Meanwhile, Hensley saw six starts behind the plate as a sophomore and enjoyed a productive fall where she posted a .333 batting average along with four doubles.
With more players to add competition for several positions, the Bucs hope by living up to their motto that changes will take place – not only this season – but in the years to come.
For more information on Buccaneer softball, visit www.ETSUBucs.com.