2009 South Carolina Gamecock Softball Season Preview
Feb. 4, 2009
After an improbable run to the 2007 NCAA Evanston Super Regional, the Gamecocks took a step back in 2008, going 21-26 in a season that was filled with high expectations. With 2009 on the horizon, the team now looks to rebound from just the second losing campaign in Joyce Compton's 30-plus year career as a head coach.
The team returns six starters and 11 letterwinners from a season ago, led by a senior class that played pivotal roles in the NCAA run two years ago. Two juniors and six returning sophomores will look to lead a group of 10 newcomers into the daunting SEC schedule. While six starters return, they shouldn't feel too comfortable.
"We're going to be a young team," said the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Hall-of-Fame coach Compton, "so I think a lot of it is going to be figured out as the season gets going. A lot of positions are pretty wide open. We have a lot of people that will be playing, and it's going to be up to somebody to win a position. It might take going into the game season to really get that accomplished."
Compton does think the team has improved with the additions in many areas, specifically mentioning athleticism and speed.
"This will be an exciting team," stated Compton. "Athletically, we are a better team. We are a faster team than we were last year. Our pitching is young, so they need to experience college softball to really get their feet wet. And you just hope that one of them will come through for you."
Another big addition will be on the practice fields, as three-time All-American and South Carolina Athletics Hall of Fame member Tiff Tootle returns to her alma mater as a volunteer assistant coach. A successful head coach in Florida's junior college ranks and at the Division II level, Tootle will work closely with the slap hitters among other duties this season.
Even with a young team, the squad will not back down from the competition in the Southeastern Conference, which has asserted itself as one of the toughest and deepest leagues in the land. A berth in the SEC Tournament in Knoxville, Tenn., will be just one of the goals for this bunch in 2009.
A spot that was wide open last season has turned into somewhat of a two-person race this season. Four people drew starts behind the plate, but two freshmen emerged to start 42 games combined in 2008. Now sophomores, P.J. Fulmer and Cassie Gogreve will once again share time behind the dish this season.
Gogreve had a more potent bat during the season, but she was limited in the field due to an injury. With that behind her, Gogreve looks to improve on her .306 batting average from a season ago.
Fulmer drew the majority of starting assignments in 2008, and she hopes to keep that role again this season. The Blythewood, S.C., product deftly handled the veteran pitching staff last season, and she will be looked upon to lend that gained experience to the youthful hurlers, just one of which are back from a season ago.
The infield could be manned by veterans all around, but there are many freshmen looking to get some playing time in there as well.
At third, sophomore Jill Semento looks to take full hold on the position after starting 17 times there last season. The sophomore ranked in the top three on the squad last season in numerous batting categories, including leading the team with five home runs. The Umatilla, Fla., product should once again anchor the middle of the lineup for the Gamecocks.
Junior Lindsay Walker hopes that an offseason full of rehab have put the foot and ankle injuries that limited her a year ago behind her. The Fayetteville, Ga., shortstop saw her batting average fall by more than 70 points from her freshman year. When healthy, Walker can provide a steady bat in the bottom half of the lineup, or, as she did at times last season, be a solid No. 2 hitter with the capability of moving runners along for the middle of the lineup.
Senior Ashton Payne looks to be the other half of the double-play tandem this season after splitting time between the outfield and infield during the previous three seasons. The Richmond, Va., product led the team in many offensive categories in 2008, while she also stood amongst the SEC leaders in triples last season. Another good season could bring even more hardware into Payne's possession, after she was named to both the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America and an NFCA/Louisville Slugger All-South Region second teams.
First base could be a two-person race between senior Jacqueline Wetherbee and sophomore Laura Mendes. Mendes started 42 games a year ago all over the diamond, mostly in the outfield, and stood in the top three in nearly every offensive category. If she can pick up the intricacies of infield defense, she could gain a lot of starts at first.
Wetherbee fought through a tough 2008 at the plate and looks to rebound with a strong final campaign. The Acworth, Ga., native needs just three home runs to push herself into the top 10 all-time in that category.
Freshmen abound as possibilities in the infield. Evan Childs, the "Toast of the Coast" Player of the Year by The Sun News in Myrtle Beach, has practiced all over the infield and could find time at all four spots as well as catcher if needed this spring. Kandyce Redondo played second base and shortstop during her prep days at Pembroke Pines (Fla.) Charter High School and has added third base to her repertoire since coming to Columbia. And Sam Arbaugh, from Aiken, S.C., could also see time up the middle in the infield this spring.
The outfield could see many combinations utilized this season. Seven players are vying for three spots, with four veterans being pushed by three rookies.
Atop the seniority charts are senior Cagney Davis and junior Adele Voigt. Both played left field capably last season in spots, while Voigt also started 17 games in center during the 2008 season. Davis will look to continue her offensive improvement from a season ago, while Voigt will try to carry the momentum started late last season when her bat finally came around. Voigt could be one who most benefits from Tootle's work this season and might bounce again between left and center.
Mendes started 20 games in center last season and could play in the middle or in right if first base is not her spot. And Sarah Conwell, a walk-on in 2008, could vie for playing time in right field as well.
Three freshmen will push the veterans this season. Kaitlin Westfall, a standout prep star in Georgia, is trying to work her way into the lineup in left field, while Lauren Lackey, from Lake Elsinore, Calif., could push her way into the order in center. In right field, freshman Kristen Stubblefield has the chance to be the starter on opening day. The second-team all-California player was one of the top recruits in the state at Corona High School.
With defense always at a premium under Compton, one of the top hitters without a clear position could end up at the designated player spot. Last season, Semento held that position on 25 occasions. This year, any of the freshmen who prove themselves with the bat could get some at-bats as the DP. Freshman pitcher Audrey Broyles could also get some time in the batter's box this spring, whether in the circle that game or not. The consensus high school All-American hit .430 during her senior season with 29 RBI.
After losing two veteran starters from a year ago, pitching coach Angela Thompson has a new group to try to mold into SEC-caliber starters this season. One pitcher is back from a season ago, and redshirt sophomore Krystle Robinson is looking to improve from last year's 2.80 ERA. She did compile a winning record during her comeback from Tommy John surgery, putting together an 8-7 record as a redshirt freshman.
Broyles could prove to be a force in the circle as well. The Pembroke Pines, Fla., native struck out 155 batters in 16 appearances en route to a 0.45 ERA during her senior season. The Miami Herald and Sun Sentinel named her the Broward County Player of the Year.
Kelsey Goodwin could also push her way into the SEC weekend rotation. The Houston, Texas, native led her Lamar High School team to the District 20 title last season with a 12-5 record.
Kierstyn White looks to follow in the footsteps of other South Carolina natives that have played well for the Gamecocks in history. The Irmo H.S. product struck out 1,287 batters during her high school career.
The Gamecocks are not just relying on freshmen to go off the slab. Ashley Chastain, who played for Tootle at Columbus (Ga.) State, could play a vital role on the staff as well. A control artist, Chastain walked just 13 batters in 89.1 innings for the Cougars in 2008.
After a brutal 2009 schedule took its toll physically, the Gamecocks will play a more balanced schedule that will increase in difficulty throughout the spring as they draw closer to SEC play.
South Carolina will open the season at home against the College of Charleston on Sat., Feb. 7 before traveling to Patriots Point for a single game on Sun., Feb. 8. The first true road trip sends the Garnet and Black south to Orlando, Fla., where they will play in the UCF Early Bird Tournament. A single game at Charlotte will precede the Gamecock Invitational, an eight-team tournament at Beckham Field from Feb. 20-22. There, South Carolina will square off with Chattanooga among others. The Mocs will be the first NCAA Tournament team Compton's crew will face during in 2009. The last weekend before SEC play kicks off, the Gamecocks will travel to the prestigious NFCA Leadoff Classic. Houston and Northwestern will be among the five foes South Carolina is slated to face during the weekend of Feb. 27-March 1.
After a trip to Chapel Hill to face North Carolina, the Gamecocks will open league play with the preseason SEC favorite Florida in a three-game series. A mid-week trip to Arkansas precedes the first weekend road series in the SEC for 2009 at Tennessee. Then the Gamecocks finish the mid-week doubleheader portion of the conference slate with the Rebels of Ole Miss coming to town. Georgia follows the Rebels to Beckham Field that weekend. A trip to Auburn wraps up March for the Garnet and Black.
The first week of April is filled with non-conference action, with home games against Winthrop and Coastal Carolina on the docket. Over Easter weekend, the SEC West favorite Alabama comes to Columbia for a three-game series. And the first meeting against USC Upstate wraps up the season-long six-game homestand.
The Gamecocks will embark on a seven-game road trip, first making the long trek to Mississippi State for a three-game series on April 18-19. The final non-conference game is slated for April 22 at Coastal Carolina. Finally, the Gamecocks will wrap up the road swing on the bayou, as they travel to LSU for a three-game set.
The Gamecocks close the 2009 regular season at home against SEC East foe Kentucky on May 2-3. That will be Alumni Weekend for South Carolina, while Sunday will be Senior Day for Davis, Payne and Wetherbee. But hopefully the season won't end there, as the SEC Tournament will be held from May 7-9 in Knoxville, Tenn. The NCAA Tournament begins a weekend later on campus sites, with super regionals taking place from May 22-24. The 2009 Women's College World Series is slated to begin on May 27 in Oklahoma City.