COLUMBIA, S.C. -
The 2010 season will begin at Beckham Field for the South Carolina Gamecocks as well as for six other teams in the state. The first Palmetto State Showdown pits seven of the nine Division I softball programs against each other over Valentine's Day weekend at Beckham Field. Action starts at 11 a.m. on Friday, with the Gamecocks getting underway at approximately 5 p.m. that day.
History of South Carolina-Hosted Events Against State Schools
The Gamecocks have hosted 26 in-season tournaments since 1985. In 1992 and 1993, the program held three events, while two tourneys took place in 1988, 1990 and 1991. Out of those 26 invites or round robins, only eight have seen the Gamecocks square off against an in-state rival, and in none of those were there two fellow Palmetto State schools that South Carolina played.
This is the ninth straight year the Gamecocks have hosted a tournament. The past eight events have either been a Carolina Invitational (2003) or Gamecock Invitational (2002, 04-09). Since 1985, the program hosted an event in every season except from 1996-2001.
Of the participants in the 2010 Palmetto State Showdown, four have played in previous tourneys in Columbia. Winthrop has played in the most at three (1989 USC Round Robin, 1990 USC Invitational, 1992 USC Round Robin). Both Furman (1987 South Carolina Invitational, 1990 USC Round Robin) and Coastal Carolina (1991 USC Round Robin II, 2005 Gamecock Invitational) have played in two. The College of Charleston played in the 2004 Gamecock Invitational. Charleston Southern and USC Upstate are new to the tournament scene in Columbia, though both have played before at South Carolina.
Schedule Ranks Among The Toughest
Head coach Joyce Compton always assembles a tough schedule for her squads, but the rise of the SEC has helped make that schedule among the toughest in the nation automatically the past few seasons. This year is no exception, as the Gamecocks are slated to face three of the top five and eight of the top 25 teams in the preseason polls this season. The only thing worse than those 20 games against the preseason top 25 is the fact that 14 of those games will come away from Beckham Field. In fact, all 11 games against the preseason top 10 will happen in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Gainesville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.
While facing three of the top five is bad, the Gamecocks have done worse in regular-season play. Twice South Carolina has faced four of the top five teams in the preseason NFCA coaches poll in 2001 and 2003 and three on two more occasions in 1997 and 1999. There will be no sympathy from another SEC member, however, as Auburn is slated to face all five top-five teams this year.
Strength Always In The Circle
The Gamecock teams that have gone the farthest have always had strong pitching. While there's only one addition to the pitching staff this year in April Borchardt, who is primarily an outfielder, there are reasons for hope. Returning sophomores Audrey Broyles and Kierstyn White both learned many lessons during their freshman season as they combined to throw 230 of the squad's 312 innings. Rick Pauly has also joined the staff after a successful stint as head coach at Spartanburg Methodist College. A longtime pitching instructor at the high school level, Pauly hopes his methods translate to the top level of collegiate softball.
The Fall's Shining Star
Junior Ashley Chastain came in without a lot of fanfare last year, but she finished the spring with a bang. The winner in the season-ending contest against Kentucky, Chastain continued that momentum into the fall. She won all four games that she pitched in while tossing one complete game. She did not allow an earned run in 22 innings while tying for the team lead in strikeouts. The Georgia native could challenge for the ace role this season.
Not To Be Overshadowed Kierstyn White comes back after leading the SEC in relief appearances and games finished. Going 9-4 as a freshman, White continued on a roll during the fall, going 3-0 in four starts with a 1.00 ERA. In 21 innings, she struck out 17 while giving up just 14 hits. The always-ready White from 2009 will compete with Chastain and Audrey Broyles for the No. 1 pitcher's spot in the rotation.
Lone Star Connection
The Gamecocks brought in three pitchers in the 2009 signing class, but little did they know the connection the trio had. Despite hailing from Florida, South Carolina and Texas, Audrey Broyles, Kelsey Goodwin and Kierstyn White were all born in the Lone Star State. The Florida native Broyles and Goodwin both came into the world in Houston, which is still listed as Goodwin's hometown, while White was born and grew up for a time in San Antonio.
Last Remaining Vestiges
The year 2007 was a magical one for South Carolina softball. The squad won 38 games and advanced into the program's first NCAA Super Regional. From that squad, only two players remain, and both played a significant role on that team. Adele Voigt and Lindsay Walker both played in every game that season, with Walker not missing a start at shortstop and Voigt starting all but one game in the outfield.
Back to Bash
Junior Laura Mendes ranks as the top Gamecock hitter returning from last year's squad. Her powerful left-handed bat should once again anchor the lineup, where she hopes to best her eight doubles and two triples from a year ago, both of which led the squad.
Steady Influence Behind The Plate
Junior catcher P.J. Fulmer has been a solid contributor for two years. She started 43 of the 45 games last season behind the plate, lending leadership to a staff that had four members in their first year in the SEC. She'll be relied upon once again to guide a young staff, as there will be two juniors and three sophomores throwing for the Gamecocks.
Fulmer also hopes to improve her game at the plate. After hitting .197 as a freshman, she slumped to .171 as a sophomore. She did hit two more doubles, but that came in nearly 50 more at bats.
Bringing In The Palmetto State's Best
The Gamecocks have been very active recruiting the best from their own state. The 2009 freshman class included Evan Childs and Kierstyn White, while the 2010 rookies include Briana Hamilton and Hannah Milks. The latter duo will get their chances around the infield, with Hamilton possibly getting time at all four positions and Milks concentrating on the left side.
Nice Double, Can You Do It Again? Evan Childs did something last season that has only happened three other times in Gamecock history (since 1982). The Conway, S.C., native led South Carolina in both home runs and stolen bases, putting her name among legends like Dana Fulmer, Christie Dammer and Lindi James. She was also the first Gamecock to accomplish the feat during the Southeastern Conference era. What will she do for an encore? That is something everyone is waiting to see.
If you go by the fall numbers, Childs could lead the way in many categories. She topped the squad in batting average, doubles and slugging percentage in the eight outings while also hitting the team's only homer of the fall. She did not steal any bases, however, leaving the running to the rest of the team.
The Glove Where Triples Goes To Die Came From This State, Too
South Carolina native Joe Jackson had a glove that was described as the place where triples go to die. This year's Gamecock outfield could follow in the legacy of the great Jackson. Both senior Adele Voigt and sophomore Lauren Lackey have above-average speed that could help keep balls out of the gaps. And newcomer April Borchardt picked up three steals during the fall while covering a lot of ground when in the outfield. That trio could be the opening-day arrangement, with Voigt manning left, where she claimed SEC All-Defensive honors in 2009, Borchardt in center and Lackey in right.