Nov. 4, 2014
By Brad Muller | More Features
After back to back appearances in the NCAA Tournament, the South Carolina softball team wants more.
"I think our goals are bigger," said head coach Beverly Smith. "The kids we recruited wanted to change the program. They're here with big goals. We certainly want to be back in the NCAA Tournament and playing in Super Regionals, and our ultimate goal is to win a national championship."
The Gamecocks went 36-22 overall last year highlighted by SEC series wins over nationally ranked Texas A&M and Auburn while defending their home turf with a 27-8 record at Carolina Softball Stadium at Beckham Field. South Carolina posted a 7-1 record during the fall exhibition season as Smith looks to put the pieces in place for next spring.
"I thought our fall season was very successful," Smith said. "I'm impressed with the girls in the locker room, what we did on the field, and I like how deep our bench is."
Depth was added in the pitching circle where the Gamecocks return fifth-year senior Julie Sarratt (17-12, 2.79 ERA) and sophomore Nickie Blue (18-10, 3.11 ERA), who earned SEC All-Freshmen team honors last year. While those two veterans picked up where they had left off, newcomer Hayley Copeland, a freshman from California, also proved she's ready to contribute at the next level.
"Every game we played this fall, every pitcher appeared," Smith said. "They're all very different. Nickie led the nation in saves last year, and that's a tip of the hat to Julie, who usually got us going in the right direction and Nickie could come in and finish. Hayley provides a completely different look. So I feel like we can come out in a lot of different directions against our opponents. Hayley has played at a very high level. She has won a national championship at the 18U level, so she's certainly faced competition like we'll see in the SEC. She's not going to blow the ball by anybody, but she spins and really makes it tough to square a ball up as a hitter."
The Gamecocks have the luxury of returning a pair of senior catchers in Sarah Mooney, (.300, 12 HR, 34 RBI) who set school single season record with 12 home runs last year, and Olivia Lawrence (.255, 3 HR, 13 RBI).
"Mooney is certainly a game-changer at the plate," Smith said. "She led our team in home runs last year and has the potential to do it again, and Olivia had a great fall. So I think you'll see them being interchanged very easily with one catching and the other at the DP spot."
The Gamecocks established a new team single season record with 53 home runs last year to go along with 210 walks, which was also a school record.
"Our seniors have a done an awesome job getting the freshmen into the fold. I like the camaraderie and the attitude that they've had. You can tell they're not going to be satisfied in just doing what we did last year."
The Gamecocks graduated their starters in the middle infield and that proved to be the biggest question mark heading into fall practice.
"I thought Krystan White and Kamryn Watts did an outstanding job at shortstop," Smith said. "I enjoyed watching those two freshmen compete at that spot. Lauren Masters moved from third over to second base, and she did an outstanding job. So that question has been answered. Her defensive play was very good and her offense was outstanding."
Kaylea Snaer (.287, 8 HR, 35 RBI), who earned SEC All-Freshman Team honors last year, is back from the elbow injury that forced her to miss several weeks near the end of last season.
"It was a great to see her back on the field and letter her trust that her arm has healed," Smith said. "She's going to be big player for us and a key at first base and in the middle of the lineup."
The Gamecocks also have to replace their leading hitter from last spring with the graduation of Ashlyn Masters, (.362, 8 HR, 32 RBI) who hit at the top of the lineup.
"Alaynie Page had a big fall for us," Smith said of the sophomore outfielder. "The part I liked about her was that we had her in the lead-off spot, which was new, and she handled that really well. I think she can give us a nice spark at the top of the order potentially."
While the Gamecocks return plenty of power in the lineup, Smith believes she has added some speed to the lineup which may help in manufacturing runs.
"Two freshmen outfielders that I thought did a nice job for us at the plate were Caroline Cash and Tiara Duffy," Smith said. "Both are freshmen and both are left handed. They both run well. So I'm excited about the addition of those players. I think we will run better this year, so we may surprise some people with some short game and some speed that we haven't had in the past. We're younger, but I think we're going to have an exciting offense."
Senior Kristen Struett (.276, 2 HR, 15 RBI) returns in the outfield and led the Gamecocks with five outfield assists in 2014. While there will still be position battles in the spring, Smith liked what she saw in the exhibition season.
"Our starting lineup won't be written until the spring, and I think third base is going to be a question mark," Smith said. "We have a lot of practice and a lot of growing still to do."
As the Gamecocks make preparations for 2015, Smith is excited about the fan support they continue to receive in year three of the new stadium after selling more than 700 season tickets last year. That support makes a difference.
"You can feel the fans presence on the field," Smith said. "So I have enjoyed that feeling of a home field advantage. I encourage people to get their tickets, and be loud. We're starting to see a lot more students at the games too. With all of the coverage we get now, it's important for us to see the stadium full and it helps out in recruiting too."
All of South Carolina's home games will be televised in some fashion this spring, with most appearing on the SEC Network+, and Smith encourages all season ticket holders to use their tickets or pass them along to others to enjoy the game.
"Last year was our best year in my tenure here," Smith said. "We finished earlier than we wanted to last year, so that's motivated our players to come back and do well. Our seniors have a done an awesome job getting the freshmen into the fold. I like the camaraderie and the attitude that they've had. You can tell they're not going to be satisfied in just doing what we did last year."
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