ISU Softball Officially Begins Preparations for Feb. 7 Opener
Lauren Kellar is one of four seniors on the 2013 squad
Lauren Kellar is one of four seniors on the 2013 squad

Jan. 10, 2013

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NORMAL, Ill. - The Illinois State softball team officially opened its 2013 season with their first practice of the year, Thursday afternoon at Horton Field House. It was one of 25 practices the Redbirds will have, in addition to conditioning and classroom sessions, as they lead up to their Feb. 7 season-opener against Sam Houston State in Waco, Texas.

The Redbirds will play 55 games in 2013, including 16 in Normal at Marian Kneer Stadium. The defending Missouri Valley Conference Tournament champions are looking to make their fourth-straight NCAA Tournament appearance, and 10th overall.

ISU returns 14 players from last year's squad that went 37-23 overall and 18-8 in the MVC, good enough for a second place regular-season finish. Seven of nine players that were in the lineup for last season's season-ending 2-1 loss at No. 9 Missouri in the regional round of the NCAA Tournament return, but the Redbirds will have to replace two pitchers, Jordan Birch and Megan Warner, who combined for 88-percent of the team's innings thrown last season.

Pitcher

Sophomore Sophia Perez and junior Taylor Baxter return for the Redbirds, while freshmen Erin Rodriguez and Regan Romshek enter the mix for innings this season. Perez is the leading returner in innings for the Redbirds, as she threw 35.0 innings, going 3-0 with a 2.80 ERA in 16 appearances, all in relief. Baxter appeared in only nine contests, starting once, and went 0-1 with a 9.26 ERA. However, Baxter saw considerably more success as a freshman in 2011, going 4-3 with a 3.40 ERA. Rodriguez and Romshek each contributed significant innings in the circle during the Redbirds' fall schedule and trip to Curacao, and will look to contribute in 2013.

Infield

The Redbirds return all four starting infielders from last year's NCAA Tournament run - senior Elizabeth Kay (third base), sophomore Lindsey Greene (shortstop), junior Kolby Hoffman (second base) and junior Laura Canopy (first base) - in addition to redshirt junior Sara Bradley, who played in 40 games and started 29 contests. Canopy was an All-MVC Second Team selection after hitting .304 with three home runs and 24 RBI. Kay, a 2011 first team all-region choice and two-time All-MVC First Team selection, was second on the 2012 team with seven home runs. Sophomore Kara Repp will provide depth, along with freshmen Molly Cull and Brittny Drish.

Catcher

Gone is Caiti Kopp, who started 58 games behind the plate, but taking her place will be sophomore Stephanie Gallant. Gallant, an Ajax, Ontario native and the first international player in the history of Illinois State softball, saw action in 20 contests last year. She posted a .217 batting average with three doubles and five RBI in her limited playing time. Kay has also caught in the past, and figures to serve as the backup.

Outfield

The Redbirds featured one of the MVC's best outfields in 2012, and it figures to be a strength again in 2013. ISU lost First Team All-MVC performer Liz Andrews to graduation, but returns two senior All-MVC Second Team selections, Jhavon Hamilton and Lauren Kellar. Hamilton led last year's team with 12 home runs and 37 RBI, while Kellar hit .298 and led the team in stolen bases with 12. With Hamilton oftentimes being used as the designated player, redshirt junior Nichelle Harrison saw significant action as well. Senior Shelby Music battled an injury last season, but figures to be in the mix for playing time this year, along with sophomore Kelsey Turczyn and freshman Kaitlyn Knary.

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