The East Central University softball team will look to build on last season’s 27-18 overall record and 15-11 mark in the Great American Conference, as it will return 10 players, lose just seven and add nine to the 2013 team.
“Most of the returners got a lot of time and experience playing last season so they are all ready to step up and contribute,” said head coach Destini Anderson. “We lost a lot of big sticks after the 2012 season, but these players are ready to fill in those roles and be successful.”
The Lady Tigers advanced to the GAC Championships a year ago, but went 0-2 in the tournament. The young team will look to improve on last year’s success with six freshman, nine sophomores, two juniors and two seniors.
“We have a massive amount of talent between the returners and the newcomers that are joining the team,” said Anderson. “Every player is going to have to continue to work hard to earn their spot in the lineup, but I think the team is excited to get the season started.”
The Lady Tigers have been picked to finish third in the 2013 GAC Preseason Poll, as voted on by the league’s head coaches. ECU received 35 points.
Arkansas-Monticello earned the top spot, with 43 points and four first-place votes. Southeastern was second, with 39 points and two first-place votes, with Southwestern and Southern Arkansas each earning the final first-place votes and finishing fourth (34 points) and fifth (30 points), respectively. Henderson State (17 points), Arkansas Tech (13) and Ouachita Baptist (13 points) round out the poll.
Ali Manship and Shelby Simmons are the two seniors on the 2013 edition of the Lady Tigers. Manship joined the team in 2012 and earned GAC Newcomer of the Year honors, as well as All-GAC First Team accolades.
“Ali Manship and Shelby Simmons are both very consistent players and great leaders,” Anderson said. “They are both the types of players that we need to have to be successful and finish at the top of the conference. Ali is going to continue to pitch a lot for us and is also a great all-around player who can fill in at third or in the outfield so we can keep her in the lineup for her offensive skills.”
Simmons was named to the GAC All-Academic Team and finished first in the league with five triples. Simmons had a strong season at the plate, earning the title of the NCAA’s Toughest to Strikeout. She recorded zero strikeouts in 166 at-bats and was the only NCAA DII player to not be struck out in 2012.
“Shelby has amazing defensive talents that allow her to make great plays,” added Anderson. “Last year she was our lead-off and the ability to get on base a lot to give us the opportunity to score.”
ECU returns two key infielders from last year’s team in sophomore Chelsea Patterson and junior Tarra Underhill. Patterson hit .379 as a freshman and earned All-GAC Second Team honors.
“Chelsea had an impressive .379 batting average as a freshman and Tarra plays great a third base,” said Anderson.
The Lady Tigers also added sophomore Kaile Marcum to the infield line-up, who is expected to be very quick and be able to cover a lot of ground.
In the outfield, ECU returns sophomore Lauren Bancroft, Peyton Watson, and Lacey Williams, who are all expected to play a larger role this season.
“Lauren has great instincts in the outfield and the ability to throw runners out at the plate,” commented Anderson. “Peyton is the type of athlete that can play anywhere in the field and Lacey adds pop to our lineup.”
The Lady Tigers will bolster the line-up with nine newcomers, including junior Gina Mengwasser. Mengwasser was named the 2012 NFCA Diamond Catcher of the Year for the NJCAA.
“We lost two catchers from last season,” said Anderson. “I had freshman Kayci Snider last year that we were grooming for this season, but I like to have at least two catchers and we needed someone like Gina Mengwasser to come in and help fill in that other slot. Gina had an exceptional season last year and we needed someone with her power and experience to have two solid catchers behind the plate.”
The Lady Tigers have also added Megan Dodson to the catching staff, after she sat out during the 2012 season.
The biggest area of improvement comes from the ECU pitching staff, who were all new for the 2012 season.
“We had a whole new pitching staff last season,” said Anderson. “But with the return of Ali Manship, Amanda Madden, Brianna Nunley and the addition of Lacey Paulk I feel we will be tough in the circle.”
The Lady Tigers will also add four new faces in freshmen Lauren Reeves , Autumn Suydam , Leah Tigert, and Jordynn Van Pelt.
“All of these young ladies are coming from highly successful high schools and summer programs,” Anderson added. “They are all ready to contribute and be difference makers for us.”
ECU opens the season Feb. 1-2 at the St. Mary’s Tournament in San Antonio, Texas, with games against St. Mary’s, Angelo State, Tarleton State, Texas Woman’s and TexasA&M Kingsville.
“I like going to the St. Mary’s Tournament because of the talent level that we will see,” Anderson added. “Last year the teams that we played finished high in their region and went on to play in the Super Regional, so those games are great for preparing us for our conference games.”
The Lady Tigers will participate in three pre-season tournaments in 2013 to help prepare them for the GAC portion of the season.
“I like to play a lot of tournaments south of us so we have a better opportunity to get the playing time in,” said Anderson. “It is important for us to get as many games in as we can to prepare for the conference season.”
The first league games of the year are Feb. 22-23 against Southeastern Oklahoma State at the ECU Softball Field. The season will wrap up at the GAC Tournament, April 25-28, where the Lady Tigers will fight to earn a trip to the NCAA Regional.