Softball Opens 2012 Season at Louisiana Classics
Feb. 9, 2012
TULSA, Okla. - The No. 24-ranked Tulsa softball team opens the 2012 season this weekend at the 26th Annual Louisiana Classics Softball Tournament, beginning with a game against Rutgers at 11 a.m. Friday at Lamson Park in Lafayette, La.
TU will also face Mississippi Valley State at 6:30 p.m. Friday. Saturday, the Hurricane plays the host and No. 23 Louisiana-Lafayette at 3:30 p.m. and Mississippi Valley State at 6 p.m. Tulsa rounds out the tournament against ULL at noon on Sunday. Live stats for every game of the weekend can be found here.
The Golden Hurricane opens its 20th season ranked in the preseason top-25 for the first time in program history in the 24th spot by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association. The 2011 C-USA co-Champions, TU ended the 2011 season with a 46-15 overall record, and a 19-5 mark in league play.
Head coach John Bargfeldt returns for his seventh season at the helm of the Golden Hurricane. The winningest coach in school history is seeking his fourth Conference USA title and fifth trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Tulsa is led by All-American sophomore pitcher Aimee Creger, and All-C-USA returnees sophomore third baseman Jill Barrett, junior shortstop Samantha Cobb, junior center fielder Caitlin Everett, sophomore second baseman Shelby Blanton and junior pitcher/DP Lacey Middlebrooks. Barrett, Cobb and Everett are preseason All-C-USA selections.
Also returning are senior outfielder Jessica Stoelke, senior infielder Skylar Swanson, junior catcher Cassidy Bowen, junior pitcher Kalynn Schrock, sophomore outfielder Haley Henshaw and sophomore outfielder Emma Horton.
ULL, picked to win the Sun Belt Conference this season, finished the 2011 season with a 51-11 overall record and a 19-5 record in Sun Belt play. The Ragin' Cajuns won the Sun Belt regular season and tournament championships and advanced to the NCAA Austin Regional.
Mississippi Valley State won the SWAC Championship last season with a 26-25 overall and a 15-2 conference record.
Rutgers posted a 19-30 record in 2011, including a 7-12 Big East mark, and reached the Big East Tournament for the second consecutive season.
Even after 2011, a season in which Tulsa won its third Conference USA Championship in six years and came within a single win of advancing to the NCAA Super Regionals for the first time in school history. The program saw its second All-America selection - this time a freshman - and seven players were selected to the All-Conference USA teams.
Still, Bargfeldt believes the best is yet to come. In fact, with four juniors and three sophomores with extensive experience on the field, he is more confident than ever in that statement.
"I probably feel as strongly about that as I ever have," Bargfeldt said. "And one of the reasons is that we have what you call `young experience'. When you look at our roster, you see that the nucleus of our players is in the junior and sophomore classes. That nucleus has already had a lot of experience starting for our team, and playing at a very high level in Division I."
The Golden Hurricane is laden with young talent and experience, with just two seniors, along with four juniors and a quartet of sophomores that have made significant contributions. The Hurricane also welcomes five newcomers with four freshmen and a sophomore transfer.
"I think with experience, that they're just going to keep getting better," said Bargfeldt. "That's not to say that our freshman class and our senior class aren't going to be heavy contributors as well. But when you have that many people that still have two or three years of competition left - and you look back at what they've accomplished so far, either individually or collectively as a team - it can't help but to make you anything but excited to see what this group can accomplish in their careers here."
Everett is the centerpiece of a deep and versatile outfield for the Hurricane. At the corners, five players are vying for the two spots, but the differences in each type of player gives Bargfeldt the option of filling his lineup with speed or power.
Both Hughes, a native of Midwest City, Okla., and Edmiston, a freshman from Haskell, Okla., are battling for the left field spot. In right field is Stoelke, who has played all three positions on the lawn, Henshaw and Horton, who changed positions after playing catcher last season.
"Both Hughes and Edmiston are in the top three in speed on our team. They are very athletic players," Bargfeldt said. "Henshaw provides a lot of left-handed power, and just finished up a really impressive fall with they way she was really driving the ball at the end. Both she and Stoelke hit left-handed. Horton probably has our strongest arm of the outfield group."
The aspect Bargfeldt likes most about his infield is the cohesiveness. He pointed out the way they work together on the field to make plays and communicate to make sure all the bases are covered - literally and figuratively.
"The infield as a whole, I think it can be one of the best total infields that we've had," Bargfeldt said. "I think we had an awfully good one last year, when you start looking at our defensive statistics and look at how they worked together. I saw signs of that again this fall. They just work really well together. They're a good, cohesive unit."
Cobb has been the anchor of the dirt for two years, and is joined on the left side by Barrett at third base, who finished third in C-USA. Blanton is moving back to her natural position at second base after a solid year in left field. Swanson, a three-year starter at second base, is making the move to first base, and is competing with Kernen.
"Cobb has been in the middle of our lineup since day one and has just accomplished so much both offensively and defensively and been very important for our team," said Bargfeldt. "Jill Barrett found a home at third base and made so many amazing plays over there. With Shelby Blanton at second base, we're trying to take advantage of her athleticism, her quick hands and the amount of ground that she can cover. Skylar Swanson is adapting very well at first base, but we always know that she has played a very solid second base for us too. Julie Kernen has quick hands and is a powerful line drive hitter. We're very excited about the kind of career that she can have here. It isn't a big group, but there is competition and there is versatility that we can move people around if we need to do so."
Bowen returns behind the plate for her second season as the full-time starter. Bargfeldt gave her some autonomy in the fall exhibition season, allowing her to call the pitches. She will compete with and be backed up by Harrison.
"I was really pleased with what I saw from Cassidy Bowen this fall," Bargfeldt said. "One of the things I allowed her to do was call the games, and she did a really nice job with that. She has a very quick release and just controls a large part of the running game. She's showing some leadership skills, being very confident on the field as a field general. Amy Harrison has come in as a freshman, and she looks very solid. She is learning from Cassidy some of the ways to be that vocal leader on the field. She has a good, powerful bat as well."
Tulsa will have as much talent and versatility in the circle as it has ever been. Right-handed pitchers Creger and Middlebrooks return for the pitching staff, as well as left-hander Kalynn Schrock.
"I am really excited about the staff. I've been waiting for the time to have a diverse staff," said Bargfeldt. "Not only are we adding a left-hander to the mix, she is a proven left-hander. Schrock is going to add some diversity to the staff this year, and she probably had the best numbers of the staff when she was a freshman."
The Golden Hurricane will play its regular home-and-home series with local teams such as Oklahoma State and Arkansas. Tulsa will make a weekend trip to Texas and play in pre-conference tournaments at perennial NCAA participants Texas A&M and Louisiana-Lafayette.
In addition to its typically challenging non-conference schedule, TU will once again have to navigate the Conference USA gauntlet, which includes four other schools that played in the NCAA regionals a year ago. Houston reached the Super Regional, while East Carolina, Memphis and UAB reached the regionals.
"We will definitely be tested," Bargfeldt said. "When you play SEC teams and Big 12 teams, you know you're going to get a test from those teams. Then, we had five teams from the conference get into the NCAA Tournament. I anticipate another strong year from Conference USA because there were a lot of young pitchers that stepped up and had fabulous years."
The returning talent on the field is not the only thing that excites Bargfeldt. He sees in his team the desire to reach heights they, as players and as a program, have never reached before.
"The one thing that stands out about this group is their passion," Bargfeldt said. "That passion is important in a softball player because it helps you make some wise decisions in what you should do shouldn't do. It makes you work hard in the weight room. It makes you work hard on the conditioning field. It makes you work hard in practice, as well as when it's game time. That's something that I've been very pleased to see with this group. I feel like this group gets along very well, and the reason is because they all have a common goal. They've all had a taste of some success. Every time I go out and work with our athletes, I just see athletes that want to be challenged in practice. They want to work hard and they want to get it right. As a coach, you can't ask for anything more than to have passionate players that just want to be the best they can be."
Following the Louisiana Classics, the Golden Hurricane plays at the Aggie Classic Feb. 17-19, hosted by No. 17 Texas A&M, and the FAU "Strike Out Cancer" Tournament, Feb. 24-26. TU opens its home schedule with the Hyatt Downtown Tulsa Tournament, March 2-4, featuring North Texas, Austin Peay, and Loyola Chicago.
For all Tulsa softball news and information, visit www.TulsaHurricane.com. Follow Tulsa Athletics on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/TulsaHurricane and Facebook at www.facebook.com/TulsaHurricane.
ATHLETICS TICKET OFFICE