2012 Softball Preview Part 3: Pitchers and Catchers
Feb. 7, 2012
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by Koby Padgett
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 concludes the three-part series previewing the 2012 Gamecocks. Rounding us out: the battery (pitchers and catchers).
The theme of this series has been experience and depth returning; however, these are two positions where it is one or the other, but not both, for 2012.
Behind the plate, the Gamecocks lost a stalwart in P.J. Fulmer, who tied for the second-most games played behind the plate since 1998 in her four-year career. She led the Gamecocks with 10 doubles last year and threw out 31.8 percent of runners against her. But South Carolina brought in three players in hopes of matching the production of Fulmer.
Leading the way is junior college transfer Shelby Gonzales. The North Idaho College product hit 27 homers last year for the Cardinals, helping them to an NJCAA Region 18 tourney berth, while she led all of NJCAA Division I with 104 RBI. But Gonzales' experience will also play a role on defense, said South Carolina head coach Beverly Smith. "While Shelby adds potential power numbers to the lineup, her experience behind the plate will be an asset too."
While Gonzales will likely start, the competition behind her is solid. Two freshmen, Olivia Lawrence and Lacey Rother, are vying for time as the primary backup during drills. Lawrence's left-handed power bat is a nice compliment to the lineup, while Rother also can provide some power as well. Both could see some time behind the dish.
In the circle, the Gamecocks lose nearly two-thirds of the team's innings from last year with the graduation of April Borchardt and Ashley Chastain and the injury that will likely cost Julie Sarratt the season.
"Our depth isn't the same," remarked Smith. "We had a lot of depth last year in the circle, and we don't have that depth with Julie out. I feel very confident in the capabilities of the pitchers we have. For me, it's those pitchers knowing we need to get ahead of hitters, we need to get outs, and we need to be efficient with our time in the circle because we don't have the luxury of running three pitchers in a game like we did last year."
But the two returners bring in three years of experience each, and they will try to share that knowledge to a pair of freshmen who will be contributing as well.
Redshirt junior Audrey Broyles comes back for her fourth season in the Garnet and Black and will fill the ace role again. Almost two years removed from her shoulder surgery, Broyles should be able to handle more of the load this season and has refined things already with the added practice time. "Audrey Broyles looks very strong," said head coach Beverly Smith. "Her arm is healthier; she's throwing harder. She has command over multiple pitches. She'll fill the number one spot for us well."
Also bringing in a wealth of experience is senior Kierstyn White. But White also is bringing in more confidence than she's had since her freshman year, when she went 9-4 in 32 games. The Irmo High School product will be leaned upon more this year, but she seems up to the task, according to Smith. "Kierstyn looks great. She's throwing the ball well in practice. She's gained a lot of confidence and has had several solid, consistent performances in practices, which is what you like to see. I expect to see that come game time. She's a senior; she's ready to go out with a bang. I think Kierstyn's going to have a big year for us."
Two freshmen, Katelynn Howser and Kristen Struett, will both contribute, with Howser concentrating more on pitching this year. "I think Katelynn's biggest improvement has been her maturity and her presence," commented Howser. "She has excellent spin on the ball. She has a great fundamental base, coming from a very good pitching coach in Georgia. We've refined some specific things and look for her to continue to improve that presence and command in the circle.
"Kristen's valuable because she's so athletic. She's that true utility player. She's talented and the type of kid who can come in at a moment's notice and get outs for us if necessary."