2008 Softball Season Begins Thursday
“I think that it was disappointing to not get back to the NCAAs,” said head coach Natalie Poole, in her seventh season in charge of the program. “We thought that we could do it and I believe we could have made it. Things didn’t fall our way and I think the good thing is that it definitely left a bad taste in their mouth, watching another team go. So it’s driven us to work this year to get back there. In some ways it hurt in the moment but it’s also been a source of motivation.”
Georgia Southern loses three position players and two starting pitchers from last year’s team that once again turned it up facing elimination in the tournament. After losing its first game in each of the last two years, GSU went 11-1, capturing the title in 2006.
“Any time you lose a good group of girls like I lost last year, ones that have meant a lot and that have done a lot for this program, there’s always a sense of concern that you won’t be able to fill their shoes and others won’t step into those roles but I’ve been surprised at the level of maturity that our new kids have played at, as well as our returning players. We’ve had some kids step up into some really key positions and we’ve had some who we expect to play at a certain level who are, and we have some new kids who have come in that we anticipate to play a huge role in our team. It’s been pretty awesome to see it take place and transpire over the last six months or so and I expect a lot of great things from them. I don’t think my level of expectation can’t be met.”
One season after needing to replace the entire outfield, Poole is faced with replacing ¾’s of her infield. Gone are first baseman Heather Smith, second baseman Katie Smith and shortstop Maria Laurato, all lost to graduation.
Heather Smith is the program’s all-time leader in RBI and walks, Laurato is tied for second at GSU in career games and third in home runs, and Katie Smith was second on the team last season in batting average.
“When you see some type of dynamic of your team work really well, to see that change is difficult. But we still have Robyne (Siliga) at third base who’s done really well and we have a couple of middles that are returning, one that had started in Nina before she was injured, and we are definitely counting on her to step back up. Aubrey (Thweatt) started for us her sophomore year and is capable of starting for us today if she works her way into that position, and we’ve brought in a junior college transfer in Amanda Hall who put up some great numbers at the junior college level and she meshes really well into our infield right now. Sam (Russo) DH’d for us last year so as far as an offensive side of things she’s already in. Defensively she played with Heather all of last year in practice and matured quite a bit and right now is playing that position really well. We have another girl in Crystal Meeks who has come in and played that position with good command and is a good hitter also. We have made some changes but I don’t think we are lacking due to those changes.”
Anchoring the new-look infield is junior third baseman Robyne Siliga (Oceanside, Calif.). After a one-season absence, Siliga returned to hit six home runs, second on the team, with 22 RBI and a team-high 28 walks. In 2005 she was named the SoCon Freshman of the Year after hitting nine homers with 36 RBI, the second-best totals in school history.
“She did a great job for us at third base last year. She took away a lot of hits and I think she plays that position really, really well. I will expect her do well in that position and I expect her to catch well if I need her to. Wherever we put her, she’ll do a good job. And I also think you’ll see a better hitter in her this year than what we saw last year.”
Sophomore Nina Iduate (Norcross, Ga.) had her initial season cut short due to a shoulder injury but the second baseman made 27 starts while scoring 14 runs. The speedster occupied either the first or second spot in the order and went 6-for-7 on the base paths.
“Nina played a short time before she was injured but was progressing in a good way as a freshman. She’s a slapper who has a good offensive game that I think will be better than what she showed last year. Right now she looks smooth and is handling the middle well.”
Battling to take over at first base are sophomore Sam Russo (Snellville, Ga.) and freshman Crystal Meeks (Tallahassee, Fla.). Russo made 46 starts in her rookie season, 39 at designated player, and was named to the SoCon All-Tournament Team.
“I think it’ll be a lot of fun to watch. The good thing is, if Sam is able to play the position the way I would like for her to and I need better hitting in the outfield, then Crystal is also an outfielder. So either way we could have both of those girls in the lineup. I’m excited about the competition and they both agree that they’re working for the betterment of the team and want whatever they can do to help.”
Competing for the starting position at shortstop is junior transfer Amanda Hall (Haddock, Ga.) and senior Aubrey Thweatt (Georgia, Vt.). Thweatt battled injuries all of 2007 after starting 53 times in 2006. She can potentially play at either middle infield position. Adding depth will be freshmen Bethany Crenshaw (Warner Robins, Ga.) and Jessica Williams (Ocilla, Ga.).
In addition to the losses on the infield, the team will have to replace two starting pitchers due to graduation: Logan Free and A.J. Street. Free made 127 appearances in her career, second-most ever at Georgia Southern and ranks fourth all-time in victories and fifth in ERA. Street led the team in ERA last season.
“I think our staff will have a different look than what we’ve had in the past. Our pitching staff will be successful and they’ll be a lot of fun to watch this year. (We lose) A.J., who’s a junk ball pitcher and was able to get people chasing quite a bit (and) Logan, who threw the ball hard and down. I’ve got some good pitchers in now who are capable of mixing different speeds as well as moving the ball around pretty good. So I think we may look a little different but we should be just as effective.”
But all is not lost on the staff. Returning for her senior season is Melissa Laliberte (Cobourg, Ontario, Canada) who in just two seasons ranks third all-time at GSU in ERA (2.17) and fifth in both strikeouts (308) and shutouts (12). She has earned All-SoCon recognition in each of her two seasons.
“I expect her to pitch with maturity, more than any other person on our staff. I expect her to be able to step up her game a little bit this year and finish strong and to be mentally prepared and physically strong enough to be a leader on our staff and to be a little bit tougher. Her sophomore year she did really well and her junior year she did OK, but it’s necessary to take her game to another level.”
Behind Laliberte will be a quartet of players looking for a spot in the rotation. Among that group are three newcomers: sophomore Kristan Glover (Evans, Ga.) and freshmen Megen Smith (Springfield, Ga.) and Brianna Streetmon (Winder, Ga.). Glover is a transfer from perennial Ohio Valley Conference power Tennessee Tech and Smith was impressive during fall play, defeating Georgia in Athens.
“It takes time to get to know a pitching staff and to make one work together. They’re still in the process of truly supporting one another. We’ve got a really good combination of speed and ball movement and each person will bring a different look. Brianna and Mandi will pitch from the left side. Mandi does a good job of hitting her spots. Brianna throws a little bit harder and is working to adjust on getting her pitches exactly where she wants. Kristan is deceptive she’s a smaller kid and throws the ball hard for her size and is a good ball-mover. She’ll be able to keep hitters off-balance. Megen already has a good presence on the mound as a freshman. She throws with a lot of confidence.
“We pitched well in the fall and they’ve come back and they’re looking good pretty early right now. I’m hoping that pitching will not be anything that holds us back early on. A lot of times we struggle early with pitching, we battle with our control so we’re trying to attack those things that we think will hold us back.”
Also fitting into the equation is fifth-year senior Mandi Stophlet (Templeton, Calif.) who earned a victory over seven innings of work last season.
On the receiving end of those pitches will be sophomore catcher Jenny Side (Loganville, Ga.) who started all but five games last season behind the plate. She led the team in home runs (9), RBI (27), total bases (82) and slugging percentage (.434). Her home run total is tied for second best in the school’s single-season history.
“It’s always nice to have someone behind the plate who knows what you want, knows what’s expected and has motivation to not make the same mistakes they made a year ago. All freshmen go through growing pains and now we’re at a sophomore year where she is more mature, she feels more confident on the field and you’re going to see her play better than last year. I think you’ll see less errors, more people thrown out and of course, an offensive threat. We’d like for her to stay steady through the whole year in terms of batting average and we feel her hitting numbers will be up this year.”
In the outfield, junior Michelle Beasley, who made just two errors in 57 starts in center last season, will be flanked by two returnees in sophomores Elizabeth Branan (Alpharetta, Ga.) and Lindsey Hopkins (McDonough, Ga.). Branan started 49 times in left field while Hopkins earned 47 starts in right.
“It is definitely huge to have stability in the outfield. It’s nice to know I’ve got three returning starters who know what I want and know what I’m looking for. I’d like to see our outfield step up in terms of offensive contributors in the lineup. Even though I’ve got three returning starters the competition is going to be more offensive in terms of who will be playing.”
Setting the table for Eagle hitters will be Hopkins. In her first season she paced the squad in batting average (.272), runs (35), hits (55) and stolen bases (18) as she returned from a season-ending injury just three games into her 2006 rookie year.
“When we look back, she felt like she could have had a better on-base percentage and I have the same view of what could have been better. She’s taken some really good measures in the off-season to better her short game as well as her power slap. Her work ethic has been excellent and I’m thinking that it will pay off for her.”
Providing depth is junior Jordyn Nail (Swainsboro, Ga.) and freshman Stephanie Peet (Lawrenceville, Ga.). Peet can play any of the three outfield positions.
- Category: Softball
- Published on Wednesday, 06 February 2008 00:18