SSU Sports Report
The story line heading into the 2014 season for Shawnee State University softball is coach Ralph Cole, who is entering his 23rd season at the helm of the Bears.
Cole needs just one victory to join the 600-win club. He is currently the 10th-winningest active coach at the NAIA level with a career record of 599-293-2, a .671 career winning percentage.
Cole has guided the Bears to six NAIA Championship appearances, including a runner-up finish in the 1996 season. The 2014 team will be looking to makes it first trip back to the NAIA Tournament since the 2001 season.
Every softball team that hopes to find success needs to have a solid No. 1 pitcher and the Bears appear to have found one in junior Allie Chapman. Chapman was a first-team All-MSC selection last season. She posted a 2.18 ERA with a season record of 13-6. She started 19 games and threw a complete game in 17 of those contests, including no-hitters against Montreat and Bluefield. She posted five shutouts in total last year.
However, the Bears will have to deal with the graduation loss of four-time All-Conference pick Ali Thompson. Thompson won 51 games over her four seasons, which ranks as third-most in program history.
Senior Tara Prater and freshman Miranda Pauley appear to be the two front runners to fill the game two starter role. Prater pitched just five innings last season as Chapman and Thompson combined to pitch 36 complete games in 39 total contests.
Over three years, Prater has pitched in 39 games, making 20 starts. She has won 13 games in her career with a 3.04 career ERA. Pauley comes to SSU from local Notre Dame High School where she was former SOC Player of the Year and All-District honoree.
The Bears also return three second-team All-MSC selections from the 2013 season. Holly Brabson led the team in batting average last season at first base. The senior also finished with a team-best .403 on-base percentage.
Fellow senior Kirsti Yates, a three-time All-MSC honoree, hit .333 last year with eight home runs, while driving in 32 runs. She also recorded a .587 slugging percentage.
Sophomore Hannah Dittoe rounds out the trio of All-Conference picks in the infield. Dittoe slammed 10 home runs. The only player to hit more in a single season for the Bears was NAIA Hall of Famer Kim White who hit 14 home runs in 1996 and 17 home runs in 1997. Dittoe had a .602 slugging percentage for the season.
Behind the plate, Abbey Barrett also returns for one more year. Barrett started all but one game last season. She batted .282 with 21 RBI and .392 on-base percentage. A career .320 hitter with 74 RBI and 75 runs scored, Barrett was a first-team All-AMC honoree in 2010 and honorable mention All-MSC in 2011.
Hannah Foster also returns after a redshirt season last year, Foster played in 19 games as a freshman, starting 16 games in the 2012 season.
The outfield appears to have the most competition in the preseason for starting roles. Kelsey Jenkins hit .325 and scored 28 runs, while swiping eight bases near the top of the lineup last season. She looks to return to her spot in centerfield. Tara Prater, who could also pitch and fill in a designated player, made several starts in left field towards the end of the year. She got on base at .303 clip in 2013.
The Bears will have to replace another four-time All-Conference selection in right field with the graduation of Erica Leighty. Leighty hit .320 in her four years, including a career-best .336 last season. She also stole 41 bases in her career, which was the second-most in program history.
Tiffani Hale appeared in 17 games, making eight starts in the outfield last season between right field and designated player.
Freshmen Heidi Hall and Kristin Caudill are also vying for that final spot in the outfield. Three other freshman, catcher Miranda Melvin, catcher Jackie Sauder and third baseman Tara Duncan, also join the Bears for the 2014 season.
Softball will open the 2014 season with three straight doubleheaders against MSC completion. After opening the season against Georgetown on Tuesday, the Bears will host Lindsey Wilson and Cumberland this Friday and Saturday. In total, the Bears are currently scheduled to play 52 games during the 2014 season. This includes 20 games at Boone Coleman Field.