Joplin, Mo. - After being delayed an extra week, the Missouri Southern softball opens the 2014 season at the Eight-State Classic hosted by the University of Arkansas-Monticello at Memorial Park in Bentonville, Arkansas. The Lions will play six games against teams from both the Great American Conference and Great Lakes Valley Conference starting with Illinois-Springfield at 11:30 a.m. Friday.
UAM Eight-State Classic Tournament Home Page
Friday, February 14
11:30 A.M. vs. Illinois-Springfield Prairie Stars (M6)
Live Stats: http://www.sidearmstats.com/uis/softball/
3:30 P.M. vs. Quincy Hawks (M6)
Live Stats: http://livestats.prestosports.com/mssu
Saturday, February 15
1:30 P.M. vs. Southern Nazarene Crimson Storm (M8)
3:30 P.M vs. Ouachita Baptist Tigers (Bentonville High School)
Sunday, February 16
11:30 A.M. vs. William Jewell Cardinals (M5)
3:30 P.M. vs. Southwestern Oklahoma State Bulldogs (M6)
Outlook: After ending the 2013 season with a 26-24 overall record, their second winning season in three years, the Lions and sixth-year head coach Bill Gray will look to take the next step forward this year as they return a very experienced lineup, including all eight position players, and their top two pitchers from a season ago.
A group that features 825 games played and 702 starts, Southern returns 11 players from a year ago, all who ranked in the top 12 on the team in batting average. Leading the way among those returners is senior All-MIAA right fielder Shelby Romines, who led the club in batting average (.364), hits (56), doubles (13), home runs (7), RBI's (40), total bases (92), walks (27) and slugged a team-best .597 on the year. Also returning to the lineup this season is 5th-year senior first baseman Dawn Grass. Already the school record holder for home runs with 22, the Ballwin native enters the season with 160 games played, 156 starts, 128 hits, 89 RBI's and 212 total bases. After smacking six home runs and driving in 26 runs a year ago, Grass and Romines will combine to give the Lions a powerful 1-2 offensive punch.
Also returning to the lineup this year is a pair of All-MIAA honorable mentions from 2013 in sophomore center fielder Alana Hester and junior second baseman Brooke Swadley. Starting all 50 games and batting leadoff for the Lions, Hester hit .306 on the year scoring a team-best 41 runs while collecting 53 hits and stealing a team-best 25 bases. Swadley hit .278 from the plate last year collecting 37 hits, scored 21 runs and drove in 16 RBI's. The pair will return to man the top of the batting order.
The Lions also welcome back senior third baseman Brooklyn Farrell, who was second on the team in batting average (.339) and slugging percentage (.559) while collecting 40 hits, nine doubles, four triples and three home runs on the season. Additionally, Southern also brings back three other regular positions players in senior Chloe Brown, who started 30 games a year ago in left field along with junior catcher Kathryn Goins who started 38 games behind the game and sophomore Michala Wood who started all 50 games at shortstop. Sophomore catchers Rachel Harding and Dru Coleman also return to help add depth behind the plate. Southern welcomes four newcomers in freshman pitcher Shelby Mitchell, outfielder Jessica Castoe, infiedler Myranda Stewart and Dakoda Owings, who will redshirt this year.
On the mound, the Lions welcomes back its top two pitchers in the circle in hard-throwing sophomores Haley Kinnison and Sarah Williams. The duo combined to go 15-11 in 29 starts throwing 13 complete games in 198 innings a year ago while holding opponents to a .245 batting average. The Lions will rely on the pair of right-handers to throw the majority of the innings for them this year, but will have reinforcements in the form of Mitchell, redshirt freshman Alexah Replogle, Brown and Romines.
Up next: After this weekend's action, the Lions return home for their home opener next Saturday (Feb. 22) against the Drury University Lady Panthers at Lea Kungle Field. Southern will play the Panthers a double-header starting at 1 p.m.