Softball Rolls into Fall Workouts, Games
Oct. 1, 2009
TULSA, Okla. - Coming off what was perhaps the best season in program history, the 2009 Conference USA Champion Tulsa softball team is back at work preparing for the 2010 season and trying to improve on last season's thrilling ride.
The Golden Hurricane is in the thick of fall practice, and has already played three games. Workouts have been strong thus far, and the competition has been stiff between the solid core of returning players and the talented freshmen the squad welcomes to the TU campus.
Fans have plenty of chances to catch fall exhibition games at home and preview the 2010 Hurricane softball team. Tulsa plays twice on Saturday at the Donna J. Hardesty Sports Complex, at 11 a.m. against Rogers State, and at 3 p.m. against North Central Texas College.
The 2009 Golden Hurricane team set 10 team records, and set or tied six individual records, and advanced to the championship round of the NCAA Regional in Norman, Okla. Before it even made the regionals, however, Tulsa used an incredible run to win the C-USA regular season and conference championships. The Hurricane won its final 10 C-USA games, and swept through the league tournament, winning 17 of 19 games heading into the postseason.
Besides the weeks that made a remarkable finish, TU also used some thrilling moments and clutch plays in many of the games down the stretch. For the season, the Hurricane batted in 94 runs with two out on the board. In addition, the elimination game in the regional ended with a two-out, three-run walk-off home run by Kelly Chapman - one of the most thrilling home runs in school history. It has become known as "The Shot II" ("The Shot" is named for the C-USA Championship-winning home run by recently graduated Brooke Smart in 2006).
The 2009 Hurricane led C-USA in hitting, and finished second in both pitching and defense - all keys to its successful season.
"Our whole team goal is to improve on last year," Tulsa Head Coach John Bargfeldt said. "We were the number one offensive team in the conference, number two defensive team in the conference, and number two pitching team in the conference. Those are some pretty lofty goals when you say you want to improve on that. I think it can be done."
It may be difficult to improve on those rankings, but the team can put up greater numbers. The team and the players individually have a history of improving each season under Bargfeldt. Seniors Lauren Lindsay and Vanessa Vice have improved their numbers each year since breaking into the lineup as freshmen. The same goes for pitchers Jackie Lawrence and Jordan Kinard as well.
"The thing we talked about a lot last year was how amazing our two-out clutch hitting was," said Bargfeldt. "But we think, `Are we going to be able to duplicate something like that this year?' That being the case, one of the areas that we are improving in is that we are able to manufacture ways to get on base and ways to score runs a little bit better with this team. We've got a little bit more team speed. So what we've lost in clutch hitting, we might make up in taking that extra base, or getting on with a slap or a bunt."
The Golden Hurricane returns six all-Conference USA performers and two other starters from last season, including first-teamers Jackie Lawrence and Lauren Lindsay, second-team members Jordan Kinard and Vanessa Vice, and freshman-team members Jessica Stoelke and Skylar Swanson. TU welcomes five freshmen to the team this year, all of which will battle for positions in the lineup.
"We lost two outstanding offensive players and three outstanding defensive players, and our third player had a solid offensive year. There are two different ways to replace that. Obviously, you could have three players step up and match what those players did. But probably the more realistic thing is that all of your returning players improve. Maybe they bat 10 points higher than they did the previous year. Then you get a couple of the new players that come in and step up and give you some more offensive output than your bottom two or three players did. That's what we're looking to see - if there is a player that is going to step up and maybe match somebody (from last year), but more importantly, collectively as a team, can we get better."
The outfield this season includes Lindsay, a senior, who set four individual season records and the career runs scored record (129). Also returning to the outfield is sophomore Jessica Stoelke, who spent all of last season in centerfield and is playing some left field this fall. Junior Lauren Menke played some right field part-time when she was not the designated player, and one of the freshmen competing for outfield positions is Caitlin Everett, who is playing some center field. Mickey LaValley, a junior transfer from Lehigh University, will be eligible for game in the spring, and is also competing for a spot in the outfield.
Vice, a senior, returns at first base, and Swanson, a sophomore, is at second base, along with freshman Keri Leach, who can play multiple positions. Chapman, a junior, is playing at third base along with freshman Cassidy Bowen. Freshman Samantha Cobb is playing at shortstop.
Senior Christian Timmons returns at catcher, and junior Ashlee Lubniewski is returning from an injury that kept her out of action for almost two full seasons, as the backup catcher. Bowen also plays catcher. Lawrence, a senior, and Kinard, a junior, provide a formidable returning pitching staff. Freshman Kalynn Schrock brings a different look at pitcher, coming from the left side. Schrock and Lawrence can also play first base or designated player.
Tulsa lost the left side of its defense and one pitcher to graduation. The competition for positions has been heaviest at those three defensive spots - third base, shortstop and left field. That is not to say, however, that the other positions have been locked up. In fact, the impact of freshmen players has been paramount to the Hurricane's success in recent years. The team also has to sort out who will be its designated player. These issues are the keys that can be sorted through during fall practice.
"We're excited about how this year's newcomers are going to fit in with the returning players," said Bargfeldt. "I think there was three or four question marks coming in, that we want to see how they look by the end of the fall. We see a lot of possibilities. We've made some movements with some people already. Once we saw what these new players have to offer, we've already started shifting a couple of players into a new position just to see if that is going to make us the strongest that we can be, both defensively and offensively. We're excited about the athleticism and the softball skills of the players that have come in with this new group, and mixing in with a very solid core of returning players."
Tulsa has played three games so far this fall, winning two and losing one. Last Thursday, the Hurricane defeated Seminole State, 8-0, and split a doubleheader at Arkansas Saturday, winning 2-0, and falling 9-0.
Through three games, Lindsay is leading Tulsa at the plate, with four hits, a .667 batting average, two RBI, two runs and a home run. Everett has five hits, a .556 average, a double and two runs. Menke has four hits, a double and an RBI, Cobb has three hits, a double and an RBI, and Bowen and Vice have each driven in a pair of runs. In the circle, Kinard has allowed no runs in 6.0 innings and struck out four, Lawrence has a pair of K's in 5.0 innings and no runs allowed, and Schrock has struck out 15 in 10.0 innings pitched.
Against Seminole State, the Golden Hurricane used a seven-run fifth inning to break open a 1-0 game and blow ahead of the Trojans. Lindsay went 3-for-3 with a home run, two RBI and two runs. Bowen was 2-for-3 with two RBI and a run, and Vice got a hit and drove in two runs, while also scoring one.
Lawrence started in the circle and pitched two innings, striking out one and allowing one hit. Schrock relieved her in the third, and tossed three innings, striking out eight of the 12 batters she faced. Kinard polished off the final two innings, striking out three and allowing nothing.
In the first game at Arkansas, Tulsa shut out the Razorbacks and scored one run in each of the fifth and seventh innings. TU started five freshmen in the lineup in that game, against Arkansas' top pitcher from last season. Everett was 3-for-4 with a run scored in the leadoff spot, and Menke, batting second, went 3-for-3 with a run. Cobb recorded TU's only RBI on a double. Leach also recorded a pair of hits, and the Hurricane had 10 in all.
Kinard started, throwing four innings with one strikeout and one walk, and was relieved by Lawrence, who pitched three innings, allowing two hits, three walks and struck out one batter.
In the second game of the doubleheader, Tulsa got four hits - Lindsay, Cobb, Swanson and Everett had one apiece. Schrock started the game and went the distance. After giving up six runs in the first two innings, she settled down the rest of the way and ended up with seven strikeouts.
In addition to Saturday's games, Tulsa closes out the fall exhibition season with three games next week. TU plays Tuesday against Northeastern Oklahoma A&M at 5 p.m., and plays twice Saturday, Oct. 10 - against Connors State at 11 a.m. and against Missouri State at 3 p.m.
ATHLETICS TICKET OFFICE