HIGH POINT, N.C. - Erskine College takes this yearís top position on the softball preseason poll as voted on by league head coaches.† Erskine was 24-17-1 and 13-5 in conference play last season and returns their nucleus that includes the Conference Pitcher of the Year and four other all-conference players that won the schoolís first ever softball conference championship last season and advanced to their first NCAA Regional Tournament. Pfeiffer University was picked tied for seventh with conference newcomer North Greenville.
Led by last yearís Conference Pitcher of the Year, Kelsey Spurrier, the Erskine pitching staff will be counted on to power the Fleet to a repeat finish as Conference Champions.† Last season Erskine finished second in the conference with a 2.03 ERA, just .02 behind conference leader Coker College.† Spurrier, also the Conference Tournament MVP, finished third in the league with a 1.89 ERA while striking out 136 batters in 154 innings pitched.† In addition to Spurrier, fellow junior Heather Richey returns.† A two-time all-conference honoree, Richey surrendered just one home run in 124 innings pitched while winning 11 games last season.
Offensively, the Fleet struggled to score runs at times last season.† Junior catcher/designated player Larissa Shannon will again shoulder the burden of putting runs on the board for the Fleet.† The two-time all-conference honoree hit .344 with 10 home runs and 30 runs batted in to lead the Fleet.† All-Conference centerfielder Morgan Purcell will again be asked to protect Shannon in the lineup.† Last year the Duncan, South Carolina native hit .292 with 5 home runs while driving in 23 runs.† Bailey Thornton, a versatile defender who has played the outfield and third base, has displayed power potential her first two years by hitting three home runs each season and could make a profound impact offensively for the Fleet.† Erskine needs sophomores Whitney Brown and Ashlyn Hicks to improve offensively on their strong freshmen campaigns while continuing to provide excellent defense at key up-the-middle positions of shortstop and catcher respectively.
The biggest concern though for Coach Hawkins is her depth.† With only 13 players on this yearís squad, Coach Hawkins will need her key players to remain injury free in order for the Fleet to have a shot at repeating as conference champs.
Limestone College enters the 2012 season after posting their third consecutive Conference Carolinas Regular Season Championship in 2011. The Saints did not drop a doubleheader in conference play as they finished with a 14-4 record against Conference Carolinas competition and held a 24-30-1 overall mark.
The Blue and Gold return four of their top five hitters from a season ago which includes All-Conference selections senior Jenna Guse and sophomore Taylor Wigmore. Both outfielders hit exactly .321 a season ago and Guse is the teamís leading returner in stolen bases (16-for-21) and fielding percentage (.989). Senior third baseman Jordan Smith and her clutch bat also return. Smith hit a smidge under .300 for the season (.296), but when runners were in scoring position she answered the call with a sparkling .390 (23-for-59) average.
While the Saints lost First-Team All-Conference pitcher Emily Wallace to graduation, they return junior standouts Leah Quant and Shelby Webb. Quant was the conference Co-Pitcher of the Year in 2010 and Webb will once again reprise her role as spot starter and closer. Limestone will also count on freshman Dallas Heaton to be a key contributor to the pitching staff.
Lees-McRae College is third in this yearís preseason poll after advancing to the championship game of the 2011 Conference Carolinas Tournament last season.† Last yearís Lees-McRae went on to post the programís highest win total in league play since 2002. The Bobcats, under the leadership of reigning Conference Carolinas Coach of the Year Merritt Yackey, return all-conference first-teamers Lindsey Huntsinger, who is a senior third baseman from Asheville, N.C. and second baseman Karli Robb hailing from Hayes, VA.
Rounding out the softball preseason poll 4-11 was: Queens, Coker, Mount Olive, North Greenville & Pfeiffer (tied), Belmont Abbey, King, and Barton respectively.
Conference Carolinas Preseason Coaches Poll (First Place Votes)
1. Erskine - (9) 99
2. Limestone - (2) 86
3. Lees-McRae - 69
4. Queens - 68
5. Coker - 59
6. Mount Olive - 52
T7. Pfeiffer - 51
T7. North Greenville - 51
9. Belmont Abbey - 34
10. King - 19
11. Barton - 17