Gamecocks return 11 letterwinners, add in 10 newcomers for upcoming year.
Senior Jacqueline Wetherbee and the Gamecocks kick off the 2009 softball season with a home doubleheader against the College of Charleston on Saturday
Feb. 6, 2009
COLUMBIA, S.C. -
The South Carolina Gamecocks begin the 2009 softball season this weekend with a split series against in-state rival College of Charleston. A Saturday doubleheader lifts the lid on the year at 1 p.m. at Beckham Field, while a single game will take place on Sunday at Patriots Point Stadium in Charleston, S.C.
The Cougars enter the season coming off a 33-33 2008 campaign and a third-place finish in the Southern Conference. The Gamecocks are looking to bounce back from just their second losing season in the last quarter century, going 21-26 in 2008.
Cougars Are No Slouch, Apparently
While many might discount the College of Charleston as just another mid-major, consider this: the Southern Conference coaches picked the Cougars to finish second in the league.
The Gamecocks Have Lots of Youth . . .
Head coach Joyce Compton has never had 10 newcomers to her program in one year until this year. Nine freshman (matching a record from 2005) and one transfer make up one of the youngest teams Compton has ever fielded. The most inexperience will be in the circle, as Krystle Robinson is the only pitcher back. She made 16 starts and 24 appearances overall. Three true freshmen and one transfer will vie to fill those over 220 innings or nearly 70 percent of the innings lost from last season.
. . . But They Also Bring Back Lots of Experience
But this is no green group as a whole. Out of 423 starts in the nine batting spots, over 67 percent of those starts return. The returning catchers started all but two games last season, most of any spot. Three returners started all but four games in left field, which stands second. At shortstop, junior Lindsay Walker started 41 of the 47 games, the third-highest percentage on the team. The position losing the most starts are right field (32), third base (30) and first base (24).
More Parts Mean More Lineups? Stay Tuned
Last season, the Gamecocks seemingly never ran out the same nine in the same order. Reality was not far from the truth, as head coach Joyce Compton used the same defensive alignment in back-to-back games just three times all season. In all, South Carolina utilized 38 different units around the pitcher. Lineup order was a different matter entirely, as 43 different orders were trotted out in the 47-game season. But even with the larger roster (by three), there is only one more position player on the roster compared to 2008. Four of the additions will take the place of two pitchers, while six freshman position players take over for five departed seniors who played the field last year.
South Carolina Picked to Finish Fourth in SEC East
In what should be familiar to Gamecock fans, the Southeastern Conference coaches selected the squad to finish fourth in the SEC Eastern Division. This is the sixth-consecutive year that South Carolina has ranked fourth in the preseason polling of the league's managers. Florida was chosen to win the East and the overall title, while Tennessee was picked second. Georgia was selected third, while Kentucky came in fifth. Alabama was the coaches' choice to win the SEC West this season.
Carolina in the Month of February Under Joyce Compton
In the 20-plus years of starting the season in the second month of the year, Carolina is 117-56-1 during February. Last year, the Gamecocks went 7-8 during the opening month of the year.
Early Look at Career List Possibilities in 2009
A few Gamecocks are looking to move onto or move up on some career charts as we start 2009. Senior Ashton Payne has already got spots in the top 10 in stolen bases and triples, and she's close to adding hits and batting average to her list. She needs 35 hits in 2009 to tie for 10th all time with Debralee Troesh, while 10 batting average points would push her ahead of Toinette Reed into 10th there. She needs one steal to tie for eighth with Dana Fulmer, and another triple puts her into fourth place alone. Payne would have to break the NCAA single-season record for triples to move any higher on the list, however.
A couple of others are already eyeing positions in different charts. Senior Jacqueline Wetherbee needs three round-trippers to tie Jana Zimmerman and current assistant coach Adrianna Baggetta for ninth all-time on the home-run charts. And sophomore Jill Semento is close to landing on a painful list, as three more hit-by-pitches will put her in a tie for eighth with 10 in her short career.
Gamecocks All-Time vs. College of Charleston
South Carolina has faced the College of Charleston just six times previously, winning all six meetings. The first four meetings all came at Beckham Field in 2004 and 2005, while the last two came down in Charleston in 2007.
Scouting the College of Charleston Cougars
The Cougars enter 2009 with some high aspirations, as they were picked to finish second behind perennial power Chattanooga in the Southern Conference race. The pitching staff from a year ago returns intact and hopes to improve on last year's team 3.31 ERA. Also back are the top eight hitters by average from a year ago, including the speedy Tiffany Harmon. The senior stole 21 bases while leading the team with a .317 average. Another returner is top overall hitter Kristie Shifflett, who hit .311, slugged a team-best .503 and got on base at a squad-best .422 clip as a sophomore. In the circle, Shannon Howard looks to improve upon her 3.16 ERA and 18-13 rcord last year.
The Last Time - South Carolina vs. College of Charleston - Feb. 22, 2007
Junior pitcher Melissa Hendon threw a perfect game through eight batters, all strikeouts, as she helped guide the South Carolina Gamecocks to a 7-2 victory over the College of Charleston Cougars. In her second complete game of the season, Hendon recorded a career-high 15 strikeouts and pitched a no-hitter through 5.1 innings. The Gamecocks scored four runs in the second inning with two outs. With the bases loaded for Tori Martin, Martin hit a fly ball to centerfield, where it was dropped by Izmena Cabrera to allow the Gamecocks to clear the bases and Martin to advance to third. Payne then singled to drive home Martin and put the Gamecocks up, 4-0.