Jan. 22, 2013
COLUMBIA, S.C. - Previewing the 2013 South Carolina softball team in a three-part series, GamecocksOnline.com looks at the defensive possibilities that head coach Beverly Smith has at her disposal.
The Gamecocks return four starters from their defensive alignment last season, including three of the up-the-middle players that typically anchor any great defense. The most experienced of those student-athletes come at shortstop and second base.
Senior shortstop Samie Garcia and junior second baseman Dana Hathorn return after starting 98 games the past two seasons together. Both have proved themselves with the bat and in the field, standing among the top five in the SEC era at Carolina in fielding percentage at their position. And with that time together brings some comfort for associate head coach Lisa Navas, who oversees the Gamecocks' defense.
"They give us some maturity," said Navas. "They know how to work together and talk. It's nice to have that leadership up the middle. We've been making a lot of little adjustments with how they do some things, trying to get them a little more aggressive."
Behind Hathorn at second are sisters Ashlyn and Lauren Masters. Both are also working out at other spots to try to win more time. Junior Codee Yeske is the top backup to Garcia, while Hathorn could also move over to short if the situation arose.
Also back as a starter is senior catcher Shelby Gonzales, who saw her name penciled in on the lineup card 44 times in 2012. Navas mentioned Gonzales has a great relationship with the pitchers and has continued her good work this year in practices.
Vying to spell Gonzales in the gear are sophomore Olivia Lawrence and freshman Jordan Bizzell. Lawrence started 17 games as a freshman, including 10 behind the plate, and could reprise her role as the top backup to Gonzales while also looking for starts at first base. Bizzell is also in the starting mix at third but could be used at catcher as well. Freshman walk-on Kelly Plescow provides the team more depth.
Navas said first base is the deepest position for the Gamecocks, with three experienced and potentially power bats trying to gain the job. Both senior Kelley Dillon and sophomore Julie Sarratt are back in the mix after missing the 2012 season with injuries. Dillon started 26 games in 2011 at the corners, while Sarratt hit two homers in a part-time hitter role as a freshman. Lawrence is also in the mix and is the only left-handed hitter of the group. All three are more than capable defensively of handling the position.
Dillon could also start at third, where she competes with Yeske, a former All-Big South first-teamer as an outfielder, Bizzell and Lauren Masters for that starting spot.
Another wide-open race comes in center field, where Ashlyn Masters, Kristen Struett and Ansley Ard compete for the job. Struett has the most experience at the plate, but all three would be newcomers to the field.
Whoever emerges from that trio will play alongside the final returning starter, rightfielder Chelsea Hawkins. The junior played 42 games in right a year ago and provides a lot of power at the plate.
In left field, freshman Alaynie Page has an advantage with her hard-nosed style, according to Navas. Page made a pair of tremendous defensive plays during the exhibition against the NPF All-Stars in the fall. Challenging her for the starting role is junior Brooke Barnhill, a starter last season at Spartanburg Methodist College.
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