Redbirds Officially Begin Preparation for 2014 Campaign
Jan. 7, 2014
NORMAL, Ill. - The Illinois State softball team officially opened its 2014 season with its first practice of the year, Tuesday morning at Horton Field House. Opening day is slated for Feb. 7.
After making three-straight NCAA Tournament appearances, the Redbirds missed the field of 64 last season after going 28-20 overall and 13-7 in the Missouri Valley Conference. A 5-3 loss to Evansville in the quarterfinals of the MVC Tournament ended ISU's season, as the Redbirds came up just short of an at-large bid.
Illinois State and 29th-year head coach Melinda Fischer will enter 2014 without four of the nine starting position players from that season-ending loss, including three - Jhavon Hamilton, Elizabeth Kay and Lauren Kellar - who started all 48 games last season. All in all, the Redbirds return 14 of 19 letterwinners.
A question mark heading into last year, pitcher is one of the Redbirds' more experienced positions entering 2014. The staff will be led by senior Taylor Baxter, an All-MVC Second Team selection last year after going 15-8 with a 3.15 ERA. Sophomore Regan Romshek hopes to build upon a positive freshman campaign that saw her go 10-9 with a 3.69 ERA in 25 appearances and 19 starts, both second-most on the team. Junior Sophia Perez ranked second in the nation last season with seven saves, and figures to be a force in relief again. Junior McKensie Vissering, a transfer from Illinois Central College, will add depth to the rotation.
The Illinois State infield returns all four starters from last year's team, including three seniors. Leading the way will be first baseman Laura Canopy, who was a NFCA All-Mideast Region and All-MVC First Team selection last year after hitting .352 with 10 home runs and 44 RBI. Senior Kolby Hoffman and sophomore Brittny Drish return as a double-play combination, at second base and shortstop, respectively, while senior Sara Bradley maintains third base. Sophomore Molly Cull and juniors Lindsey Greene and Kara Repp are experienced as well, and will add to the strength of the unit.
Last year, the Redbirds started the same three outfielders in every game. Only one of those players returns, redshirt senior Nichelle Harrison, while Hamilton and Kellar graduated. Harrison, an All-MVC Second Team choice last season, hit .340 while not committing a single error in right field. With two starting spots open, freshman Annie Heineman, sophomore Kaitlyn Knary and junior Kelsey Turczyn are all expected to see significant playing time.
The task of filling the shoes behind the plate of Kay, the 2013 MVC Player of the Year, will likely fall to junior Stephanie Gallant. Gallant posted career-highs last season in games played (30), starts (13), home runs (2) and RBI (12). Another year of improvement will be vital to ISU's offensive success. Another solid bat at the position is freshman Jordan de los Reyes.
Freshman Stevie Atterbury will provide versatility to the Redbirds from a utility role.
ISU's complete schedule will be released later this week.
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