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Blue Raider Softball Ends Season; Looks to the Future

May 17, 2006 · MT Media Relations
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - Middle Tennessee softball's roller coaster season ended abruptly last week when the Blue Raiders suffered back-to-back losses in the Sun Belt Tournament to Troy.

To an outside observer it would seem a 19-42-1 season and a 6-9 record in the Sun Belt would be a sub-par performance at best. However, most didn't see the Blue Raiders struggle through injuries and one of the toughest schedules in the program's 13-year history as the team played seven top-25 teams. Not to mention how the squad had to wander from place to place like nomads as the club waited for their new facility to be completed.

No, hold off the quick judgment and harsh words. After all, the players don't step on the field intending to lose. Look in their eyes, they desire a victory just as much as the fans in the stands, perhaps more, because they have to suffer through the preseason practices and long days in the weight room.

The team did enjoy some success in 2006 and has built a foundation that will resonate in the seasons to come.

Head Coach Leigh Podlesny brought onboard a wide-eyed junior college transfer that promised a strong arm and quick feet, and she paid off. Shelby Stiner transferred to Middle Tennessee with the visions of playing Division I softball. She exceeded her dreams of just competing and helping the team by parlaying her performance into the Sun Belt Newcomer of the Year award; not to mention becoming the first Blue Raider in two years to be named to the Sun Belt All-Conference First team.

Middle Tennessee also benefited from the return of Muriel Ledbetter to the lineup after sitting out the 2005 season due to an injury. Ledbetter was a solid number four batter, leading the team in homeruns (11), doubles (17) and walks (30). Her 11 homeruns and 30 walks both broke the single-season records at Middle Tennessee. She was also named to the Sun Belt Second Team All-Conference.

Murfreesboro native Melissa Weiland also had a big year for Middle Tennessee. Her .412 batting average in conference only games led the Sun Belt, and she was second on the team with seven homeruns. She was rewarded with her first Sun Belt Second Team All-Conference selection. Weiland's 16 homeruns for her career sets up the rising senior to break the school record for long balls in season as the record is 23 set by former Blue Raider standout Laura Brockman.

Middle Tennessee also got a lift from the transfer of sophomore Katie Mielke from Illinois State. The Redbirds loss turned out to be the Blue Raider's gain. Mielke proved to be a versatile player who was solid not only behind the plate but also at first base. Her strong play earned her Sun Belt All-Conference Second team honors.

The Blue Raiders had to work through pitching woes as the club lost the services of pitchers Laura Moore and Sam Floyd in the middle of the season. Both returned just in time for the Sun Belt Conference games and accounted for four of the Blue Raiders' six wins in conference.

As a team, Middle Tennessee found more power in 2006. The Blue Raiders had 33 homeruns as a team, the second-most in school history and just three off breaking the school record, which was 35 set in 2004. In total, Middle Tennessee had 117 extra base hits, with 77 being doubles, seven triples and the 33 homeruns.

Middle Tennessee spent over half of its season on the road or playing at its adopted home at Star Plex before returning to Blue Raider field on April 18. It was a storybook return as the Blue Raiders opened its new complex with a sweep of in-state rival Tennessee Tech. The Blue Raiders turned around the very next weekend and took the series with Troy, its second Sun Belt series win of the season.

The Blue Raiders were chosen sixth out of six teams in the preseason poll, they finished fourth. Middle Tennessee was also shutout of any preseason honors, the Blue Raiders ended the season with three second team all-conference selections, a first team selection and took home the Sun Belt Newcomer of the Year award for the third time in four years. Not bad for a team most schools looked over.

Middle Tennessee may not have had the Cinderella season the club had hoped for. But a story has to begin somewhere and there isn't always a Prince Charming waiting with a carriage. Sometimes Cinderella has to take the reigns herself. Beware a team with a goal, a team eager and hungry to prove itself, because those teams may take someone to places they could never imagine.

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