After a resurgent 2006 season, Southeast Missouri State softball coach Lana Richmond thought the Redhawks were primed for even better things in 2007.
But an early-season pitching injury foiled those plans as the Redhawks dipped to 20-29, finished eighth in the Ohio Valley Conference and failed to make the OVC tournament for the first time.
"You've got to have more than one pitcher, and after the injury, we only had one," Richmond said. "I felt we were fortunate to win 20 games with the pitching situation."
As the 2008 season begins today with a doubleheader at Jackson State in Mississippi, Richmond is optimistic that the Redhawks can bounce back.
Richmond led Southeast to five straight OVC titles from 1995 to 1999. She produced winning records in her first 18 years, including 14 seasons with more than 30 victories.
The program dipped with four straight losing seasons from 2002 to 2005, but rebounded to go 28-24 in 2006. Then came last year's slide back down.
"Our goal is to get back into the upper tier of the conference," Richmond said. "It starts in the circle. You've got to have the pitchers to carry the load.
"I feel like we're solid offensively and defensively, and I think we've improved our pitching situation quite a bit."
The Redhawks appear to have enough offense to make a climb up the OVC standings.
Southeast returns seven position starters from a squad that ranked 15th nationally with 57 home runs and hit a solid .281.
"Our offensive output was tremendous," Richmond said. "We had a great offense, and we've got most of those players back."
The Redhawks are led by three players with all-conference credentials from last season, including a pair entering their fourth year as starters.
Senior third baseman Michelle Summers already has been all-OVC three times, including being selected to the first team last year.
Summers is the program's career home run leader, and broke her own single-season record with 14 homers last year. She also led Southeast with a .333 batting average and was second with 34 RBIs.
Senior shortstop Megan McDonald also has been all-OVC three times, including a second-team nod last season after being voted to the first team during her initial two seasons.
McDonald, a Cape Girardeau Central High School product, batted .306 with eight homers and 25 RBIs a year ago. Like Summers, McDonald is strong defensively.
"Michelle and Megan have both had great careers, and we look for them to have big senior seasons," Richmond said.
Sophomore first baseman Stacia Dopudja was selected to the OVC all-newcomer team after a freshman season that produced a .327 average, 12 homers, a team-high 40 RBIs and a team-high 11 doubles.
"She had a great freshman season," Richmond said.
Junior Lauren Bradley returns at second base after missing about half the season with an injury. She still batted .271, after making the all-OVC newcomer squad as a freshman in 2006.
Returning behind the plate is sophomore Alex Ramirez (.257).
Southeast lost a pair of four-year outfield starters, but still has experience there.
Senior Katie Otterness (.246) returns in right field, while sophomore Jennifer Vasquez (.255) moves to center field after spending much of last year at second base when Bradley was hurt.
Freshman Carmen Fowler takes over in left field, and Richmond said the talented Fowler is Southeast's shortstop of the future after McDonald graduates.
"We haven't hit dirt yet [because of the weather in Cape Girardeau], but I'm really not worried because we've got a lot of experience," Richmond said.
As for the pitching, senior Elaine Fisher returns for her fourth season as a starter. She went 14-19 with a 3.69 ERA last year, but her ERA was under 2.00 during her first two years.
Richmond believes Fisher's ERA was inflated last year because she was overworked, having to throw 227 innings.
"She is the type of pitcher that just needs some help," Richmond said. "If she only has to pitch one game [of a doubleheader], she's strong for it, and she should be able to go back to doing that again this year."
That's because of the presence of freshman Whitney Dupuis, who has impressed Richmond and pitching coach Jeannine Soncini.
Richmond said Dupuis received plenty of experience working against future Division I hitters during summer ball and more than held her own.
"She's ready to throw a lot of innings," said Richmond, who believes Fisher and Dupuis will form a solid one-two punch on the mound. "I think the pitching will be a big difference for us this year."
Leigh Leonard, another freshman, also should receive some time on the mound.
Richmond said Dupuis has a solid bat, which means she also should see some action as the Redhawks' designated hitter.
Also figuring to receive playing time around the field are senior Lindsey Woodworth, who has been injured for much of her Southeast career, along with newcomers Allie Borowiak and Meagan Webb.
Borowiak, a junior college transfer who is the sister of former Southeast baseball standout Zach Borowiak, should see action at second base and third base.
Webb, a sophomore transfer from UNLV -- where she spent last season injured -- adds outfield depth.
Feb. 14 -- at Jackson State (2), 3 p.m.
Feb. 15 -- vs. Central Arkansas, 7:30 p.m., at Louisiana-Monroe tournament
Feb. 16 -- vs. Louisiana-Monroe, noon, vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 7 p.m., at Louisiana-Monroe tournament
Feb. 17 -- vs. Iowa State, 8 a.m., vs. Louisiana Tech, 10 a.m., at Louisiana-Monroe tournament
Feb. 22 -- vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 2:15 p.m., vs. Morehead State, 4:30 p.m., at Memphis tournament in Southaven, Miss.
Feb. 23 -- vs. Memphis, noon, vs. Evansville, 2:15 p.m., at Memphis tournament in Southaven, Miss.
Feb. 24 -- vs. Alabama A&M, 10 a.m., at Memphis tournament in Southaven, Miss.
March 1 -- Missouri-Kansas City, 10 a.m., Saint Louis, 2 p.m., All-Missouri Cancer tournament at Southeast
March 2 -- Missouri State, noon, playoff, TBD, All-Missouri Cancer tournament at Southeast
March 5 -- Evansville, 3 p.m.
March 7 -- vs. Florida Gulf Coast, 9 a.m., vs. Bethune-Cookman, 1 p.m., at Florida Atlantic tournament
March 8 -- vs. Towson, 4 p.m., vs. Florida Atlantic, 8 p.m., at Florida Atlantic tournament
March 9 -- playoff, TBD, at Florida Atlantic tournament
March 11 -- vs. Longwood (2), 3 p.m., at Boca Raton, Fla.
March 13 -- at Belmont (2), 2 p.m.
March 15 -- at Eastern Kentucky* (2), noon
March 16 -- at Eastern Kentucky*, noon
March 18 -- at Southern Illinois, 4 p.m.
March 21 -- at Tennessee Tech* (2), 1 p.m.
March 22 -- at Tennessee Tech*, 1 p.m.
March 25 -- Eastern Illinois* (2), 3 p.m.
March 29 -- at Austin Peay* (2), 2 p.m.
March 30 -- at Austin Peay*, noon
April 5 -- Tennessee State* (2), 1 p.m.
April 6 -- Tennessee State*, 1 p.m.
April 9 -- Middle Tennessee State (2), 4 p.m.
April 12 -- at Samford* (2), 1 p.m.
April 13 -- at Samford*, 1 p.m.
April 17 -- at Saint Louis (2), 3 p.m.
April 19 -- Morehead State* (2), 1 p.m.
April 20 -- Morehead State*, 1 p.m.
April 23 -- at Eastern Illinois*, 5 p.m.
April 26 -- Tennessee-Martin* (2), 1 p.m.
April 27 -- Tennessee-Martin*, 1 p.m.
May 3 -- Jacksonville State* (2), 1 p.m.
May 4 -- Jacksonville State*, 1 p.m.
May 8-10 -- OVC tournament, TBD
* -- OVC game