Redhawks softball has new look

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A young Southeast Missouri State softball team will try to get the program back on track this year.

For the second straight season in 2008, the Redhawks failed to make the Ohio Valley Conference tournament after that previously had never happened.

The Redhawks, 24-28 overall and 11-16 in league play last year, have posted consecutive eighth-place OVC finishes.

As a new season begins Thursday at Jackson State, longtime coach Lana Richmond is hopeful the Redhawks can bounce back.

"Our goal is to be in the upper tier of the OVC," said Richmond, who enters her 27th season at Southeast as the winningest softball coach in OVC history with a 756-536-2 record that also ranks her among the nation's winningest coaches.

If the 2009 Redhawks are going to rebound, they'll have to do it with predominately freshmen and sophomores -- and without three of the program's elite players who completed their eligibility.

First-team all-OVC picks Michelle Summers and Megan McDonald ranked among Southeast's all-time top offensive performers, while Elaine Fisher also set numerous school records as a workhorse on the mound.

McDonald batted .406 last season while Summers -- the school's career and single-season home-run leader -- hit .376 . No other Southeast player finished higher than .260.

"You just don't replace players like that," said Richmond, who led Southeast to five straight OVC titles from 1995 to 1999. "It took a lot of offense away from us.

"We don't have the home run power we've had in the past. We're going to be aggressive on the bases."

Fisher pitched 234 1/3 of the team's 339 1/3 innings a year ago.

"She was our workhorse," Richmond said.

A young roster

Southeast's 15-player roster features six freshmen, five sophomores, two juniors and two seniors who are both currently injured.

Among five returning starters are the squad's only seniors, first baseman Lauren Bradley and second baseman Allie Borowiak, but Richmond said the injured Borowiak almost certainly will miss this season as a medical redshirt.

Bradley, already a three-year regular who was an all-OVC newcomer selection as a freshman in 2006, also is hurt but should only miss a couple of weeks.

Bradley batted .237 with four homers and 16 RBIs last year.

Junior Alex Ramirez is back for her third season as Southeast's starting catcher. She is the Redhawks' top returning hitter at .260 -- she batted .310 in OVC play -- along with seven doubles, a homer and 14 RBIs.

Junior Jennifer Vasquez moves to center field from left field after batting .257 with nine doubles, two homers and 14 RBIs.

Sophomore Carmen Fowler (.207, two homers, six doubles, 17 RBIs) takes over at shortstop for McDonald after starting in center field last year.

New faces will fill most of the other positions around the field.

Three freshmen are penciled in as starters: Tiffany Blanco at second base; Renee Kertz at third base, where she takes over for Summers, who is still with the program as an assistant coach; and Shelby Stein in right field.

Another newcomer, sophomore Nicole Troncoso, will start the season at first base until Bradley returns. The versatile Troncoso, a Boston College transfer, can play every infield position.

Sophomore Elise Sperakos, who redshirted last year after starting 26 games in 2007, will be in left field.

Pitching retooled

Southeast returns its No. 2 pitcher from last year in sophomore Whitney Dupuis, who went 4-8 with a 4.76 ERA in 97 innings. She came on strong over the final few weeks of the season.

The Redhawks' pitching as a unit has struggled in recent years, but Richmond envisions a turnaround thanks in large part to freshman Giana Zimmerman.

"We feel like we landed a very good prospect," Richmond said of Zimmerman, also likely to see action as Southeast's designated hitter. "We're going to rely on her to throw a lot of innings."

Another freshman, Stefanie Barnes, rounds out Southeast's pitching staff.

"The last two years, we've had defense and hitting," Richmond said. "You've got to have pitching.

"We feel like we have pitchers who can give us quality innings. I feel very confident that if our pitching stabilizes, we can be back in the top tier of the conference."

Rounding out the roster are sophomore catcher Ashlee Hebel, a junior college transfer, and freshman utility player Sirena Watkins from Central High School.

Richmond said Watkins will be utilized in various roles because of her speed.

"She's got the best speed on the team," Richmond said. "I am so glad to have her in our program.

"She just really wanted to be a part of this program. Talk about a kid who has a passion."

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