2012 Softball Preview Part 2: Infield
Senior infielder Evan Childs
 
Senior infielder Evan Childs

Jan. 31, 2012

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by Koby Padgett
Assistant Media Relations Director

In head coach Beverly Smith's first year, the trajectory of South Carolina's softball program changed dramatically, increasing the team's win total by 15 games and making the 12th-best turnaround from 2010 to 2011 in the NCAA's top division. With only two starters gone from last year's position players, the Gamecocks hope to climb higher in Smith's second year. This starts a three-part series previewing the 2012 Gamecocks. Next up are the infielders.

Much like the outfield, the Gamecock infield from first to third return a vast majority of their starts. Taking out the two players redshirting due to offseason surgeries, nearly 85 percent of the starts return on the infield. But there are many pushing the group to improve yet again, as the team as a whole has seen a big improvement under the coaching staff.

"Last year, the starters got a lot of playing time," commented assistant coach Janelle Breneman, "a lot of experience. They've improved so much, just even the cohesiveness and learning each other. I'm excited for what they bring to the 2012 season."

One infielder joined centerfielder Lauren Lackey in starting every game, and junior shortstop Samie Garcia did so in her first year on campus after a great year at Cerritos College as a freshman outfielder. Offensively, Garcia should once again start things for the Gamecocks, leading off in 54 games last year. She looks to improve on her numbers from a year ago, where she led the team with a .403 on-base percentage, just the second OBP above .400 since 2006 for South Carolina. Her conversion to the infield defensively looked better and better as the season moved forward. Of her 17 errors, only four came in the last half of the season, with five occuring in the 28 SEC games.

 

 

"Even each practice and each game, she was picking up things, getting smarter defensively," remarked Breneman. "She's very athletic and very talented. There was never a doubt I had that she couldn't handle the position. Over the break and this fall, she's really worked hard. I think the most exciting part about Samie's game is her arm strength has really increased. She's quick. Her range is exceptional, but she's really added to her throw. That will help her utilize her foot speed and range."

Her partner up the middle, sophomore second baseman Dana Hathorn, started 50 games at the keystone last season, and the word steady described her game perfectly. As a freshman, she committed four errors in over 200 chances, making 98 assists. And at the plate, Hathorn tied for the team lead with 28 RBI, and only once did she go as many as three games without a hit. Hathorn showed power and speed as a rookie and could help the Gamecocks in any spot in the batting order.

"She has the great foot speed the position requires," said Breneman. "Her and Samie both have great range, which will help out our pitching staff tremendously, stealing some hits off the bat up the middle and in the holes. Dana's getting smarter as a player. She has the tools and the ability, now she's getting more game sense, anticipating more and more. I've seen her arm strength improve as well this offseason."

At third base, senior Evan Childs is the incumbent after taking over the spot just before the halfway point in the year. The former middle infielder is still learning the hot corner, but she had eight double plays in her 34 starts there, the most by a Gamecock in that position since 1998. The senior is another dual threat at the plate, formerly leading the team in homers and stolen bases in one year.

"Evan has done a great job," Breneman said, "(and) really has been focused on improving certain areas in her game. I look for her to really cut down on her errors this season. She looks comfortable there and has made adjustments to her game. I think her arm strength has improved. She's cutting down on the transition from fielding to the throw and has gotten a lot faster."

At first, Molly Brossart returns and looks to improve upon her three homers and 18 RBI in her first year at South Carolina. Her fielding was solid at the bag, making just four errors in 47 games. And her vocal presence has been much more noticed in spring practices. Breneman stated, "Comparing her to last year, her movement around the bag and her athleticism ... she's really worked on her foot quickness. As a senior, we're looking for Molly to be one of our vocal infielders. I think she can come in here and have a great senior year; I'd want nothing more. She's really swinging the bat right now. We look for her to be a go-to player as a senior at first base."

Behind each of those returning starters is a player eager to get onto the field and working hard for the opportunity to start. "With the marathon of games we play," Breneman said, "it's critical that you are deep, especially in the middle positions, where a lot of times you tend to see a little more injuries. I think it's going to be a challenge because they are competing against each other every day. They are pushing each other, which last year we didn't have."

Pushing at third base is senior Sam Arbaugh, who has improved every facet of her game since walking on in 2009. Her glove improves daily at third after playing a lot of second base in her first three years, and she continues to show off a stronger bat every day.

Working at shortstop after spending last year as an All-Big South outfielder is sophomore Codee Yeske. Her offensive power has her pushing for a role in the lineup, either at short or as the designated player, but she is working hard as well defensively. "Codee is very athletic," remarked Breneman. "She has tremendous tools. She's doing a great job transitioning at shortstop. She's making those adjustments in the infield. But I see improvement in her every day and every week. She's getting more comfortable there. She's working on fine-tuning her game. She's got a cannon for an arm; she's very quick."

Behind Hathorn at second is senior Kylie Morin, who has concentrated there with Yeske's addition at shortstop. The slap hitter had the best stolen-base percentage among the primary pinch runners last season and could provide a bit more speed when needed. "After a year under her belt as a transfer, she's seeing what it takes to get into the lineup," said Breneman. "She's been solid on defense, just little flares of inconsistency, but I've seen improvements in her range and glove work, and her arm is a lot stronger. She's been having good at bats for us at the plate. Her short game and placement of the ball has been exciting. She's going to put the pressure on and be there as an option, which is nice."

Options behind Brossart at first include Childs, who could shift across the diamond if needed, as well as freshmen Olivia Lawrence and Lacey Rother, both of who are competing as backup catchers as well. Working out there as well are senior Kelley Dillon and sophomore Julie Sarratt, both of whom are unlikely to play in 2012 due to offseason surgeries.

Next up in the series: the battery.

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