Redhawks look to revive their successful past

Saturday, March 5, 2005

Southeast Missouri State softball coach Lana Richmond believes this is the year her program finally gets back on track.

The Redhawks were 16-36 last season, including a sixth-place 10-14 in the 10-team Ohio Valley Conference. Southeast was 18-29 in 2003, 14-27 in 2002 and 25-25 in 2001.

Richmond's previous 18 seasons included nothing but winning records -- most of them by a large margin. She is 659-422-2 entering her 23rd year, including five OVC regular-season titles and four OVC tournament crowns.

But Richmond -- whose squad begins the season today and Sunday with the All Missouri Cancer Tournament in Kansas City --believes brighter days are ahead for the Redhawks.

"The outlook is real positive, mainly because we basically have everybody healthy now," said Richmond, whose team will play its home opener at 2 p.m. Tuesday against Lipscomb. "I think we're definitely a top three team in the conference, and our goal is to challenge for the title. I think we can do that."

Southeast was hit hard early by injuries last year, including to its pitching staff, but a mound corps that Richmond considers at least three deep is partly responsible for her optimism, along with a heralded freshmen class that has produced three starters for opening day.

"As pitching goes, so goes softball," Richmond said. "The last few years we've struggled on the mound. That's where the problem has been. But I feel very confident about our pitching. I look for us to be one of the top three pitching staffs in the conference."

Added Richmond: "We've got 16 players, and all 16 will play. We have a lot of versatility. And one of the big differences this year is our freshmen. I feel like it's one of the top freshmen groups we've had."

A solid rotation

Heading up the pitching staff is senior Amy Fahnestock, who was slowed by a wrist injury much of last season but came on strong late and finished 10-12 with a 2.91 earned-run average.

"She's healthy and ready to go," Richmond said.

Richmond is also high on junior college transfer pitcher Stephanie Huffman, an All-American at Forest Park Community College in St. Louis last year, and freshman hurler Elaine Fisher from St. Peters, Mo. Huffman is slated to start today's opener against 24th-ranked Missouri (11-2) in the Kansas City tournament.

"She's really made the transition well from junior college to Division I," Richmond said. "And Fisher is going to help us."

Senior Kelly Birk was another primary pitcher last year, going 4-13 while posting a team-best 2.09 ERA, but she had December ankle surgery and likely won't see mound duty for a while.

Birk, Southeast's top hitter last year at .331 with 18 doubles as she made first-team all-OVC, will begin the season as the designated hitter until she is ready to play defensively.

Also back from a year ago are two more of Southeast's top five hitters in senior third baseman Victoria Torrez (.286) and sophomore center fielder Lindsay Pickering (.264), who made the OVC all-tournament team.

Other returning starters are junior catcher Lyndsey Webb, junior first baseman Melissa Van Velkinburgh and sophomore outfielder Stephanie Mata.

Four first-year players -- three of them freshmen -- will begin the season as starters, including former Central High School all-stater Megan McDonald at second base.

"We're really excited about Mac and our other freshmen," Richmond said.

The other freshmen who will start are shortstop Ashley Robinson from Sparta, Ill., and left fielder Michelle Summers from Glendale, Calif., who led the squad in hitting during the fall schedule.

Southeast's other rookie regular is speedy junior college transfer Callie Brittan, an All-American at St. Charles Community College last year.

Adding more depth will be returning junior infielder-outfielder Charlene Ramirez, who batted .265 in limited action last year; freshman catcher Lindsey Woodworth from Sparta, Ill.; and freshman outfielder Katie Otterness from Schaumburg, Ill.

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