Blue Raider softball set for strong season

Return several key veterans in 2009

February 2, 2009 · David Powell
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - With the Middle Tennessee softball season set to begin this weekend, GoBlueRaiders.com takes a position-by-position look at the 2009 edition of the Blue Raiders.

Junior Lindsey Vander Lugt begins her third season looking to build on what has become one of the finest careers by a pitcher in school history.

The Olympia, Wash., native led the Blue Raiders with 125 strikeouts in 263.2 innings pitched, but it was her aversion to walking batters that earned her national recognition and vaulted her 2008 performance into the Middle Tennessee record books.

She became just the second player in Middle Tennessee softball history to finish the season leading the nation in an NCAA statistical category. Vander Lugt finished the season with just 26 walks in 263.2 innings pitched for a 0.69 average. Making it even more impressive, no other player in the top five surpassed the 200-inning mark.

Sophomore Kellie Head also returns from the staff, looking to improve on the strong start she had to her collegiate career. Despite having a couple inconsistent performances as the season wore on, Head Coach Sue Nevar thinks the Paris, Texas, native is focused on dominating the opposition in 2009.

"I think one year under her belt will make a tremendous difference. She was your typical freshman last season and had to carry half the load pitching wise," Nevar said. "That is tough on an 18-year old kid. She has a year of experience under her belt and knows what to expect. We have a one-two-three punch with our pitchers."

Freshman Caty Jutson is the only pitching newcomer and brings a wealth of talent and softball knowledge from her time as a four-year letterwinner and team captain at Bourgade Catholic High School in Phoenix, Ariz. The righty was honored as first-team All-State and 2A West Conference Player of the Year as a senior.

"We are going to have a good mix of pitchers this year," Nevar said. "They all have a different look and we didn't have that luxury last year. The key will be using the right pitcher at the right time."

The infield is the key this season and the success of this year's team hinges on the ability of several young players to adapt quickly to the collegiate game and a four-year veteran to adapt to a new position.

It is not uncommon for players to change positions in any sport, but rarely do you find a player who has had so much success in an area of the field to make a switch, let alone for her senior season. This is exactly what has been asked of former-outfielder Martha Davis who will be lining up at third base in 2009.

The Signal Mountain, Tenn., native led the team last season in both homeruns and runs-batted in and looks to use her cannon of an arm to shore up a position that has been "up-for-grabs" in recent years.

"One of the reasons we brought in Martha to third base was to anchor the corner and use her leadership skills to bring some of the younger players along," Nevar said.

The biggest hole to fill in the infield is second base after Ashley Cline completed her eligibility at the end of last season. Sophomore Kandra Singleton and freshman Tobie Joy both made big improvements in the fall and are neck-and-neck to win the position with the start of the season just around the corner.

"We are going to decide in the next few weeks who is going to start there for us so they can get gelled with the rest of the infield," Nevar said. "I think they will really benefit from the leadership of Martha Davis and Brittney Banania."

Banania returns after a strong freshman campaign at the shortstop position. The San Pedro, Calif., native showed flashes of brilliance both offensively and defensively in 2008 and big things are expected of her as she takes on a leadership role in the young infield.

"I think Brittney did a great job for us as a freshman shortstop, but I think she has even more to contribute this year," Nevar said. "I think we are going to see a better defensive and much better offensive Brittney in 2009. If the new kids have confidence in her ability then they will follow her."

Junior Jessica Ives and sophomore transfer Laurie Anna Cooley both showed well at catcher in the fall season, but a clear-cut starter is still yet to emerge. The opening-day starter is undetermined and expect both players, along with newcomer Natalie Ysais, to see significant minutes throughout the season.

Freshmen Kaycee Popham and Kirsten Patterson are very talented players who are versatile enough to play both in the infield and outfield, with both providing a significant amount of "pop" in the batting order. Both will also figure into anchoring the right side at first base for the Blue Raiders.

The outfield is home to two key veterans who are sure to figure into any of the lineup the team uses.

Junior Corrie Abel returns after being named to the Sun Belt Conference Second-Team following a stellar season in 2008. She finished the regular season ranked sixth in the conference with a .377 batting average in 162 appearances at the plate.

Her year was highlighted by being named the Sun Belt Player of the Week on April 7 after leading the Blue Raiders to a series victory against conference-foe North Texas. The Joliet West HS product hit her first career grand-slam homerun in the 6th inning to win the first game of the weekend versus the Mean Green.

"In my eyes that performance spring boarded Corrie into a very much needed leadership role last season. She will be counted on heavily this year not only for her bat and passion for the game but also her leadership abilities," Nevar said.

Speedy junior Caitlin McLure returns in left field after starting 52 out of a possible 53 games last season.

The Anaheim, Calif., native showed impressive discipline at the plate, leading the team with 22 walks despite having the fourth-least at-bats of players with at least 100 plate appearances. She also placed second on the team with nine stolen bases in 11 attempts.

With the move of Davis from right field to third base, sophomore Kelsey Dortch and freshman Shelby Barrett along with a few other of the newcomers will fight it out for the final spot in the outfield.

"The outfield is our strong suit on this year's team. Kelsey wants to nail down a starting position and we have a couple of freshmen who want to take it away from her," Nevar said. "Shelby Barrett's bat speaks for itself and we already know that Kelsey has the ability to play that position."

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