Softball starts season at Troy Subway Invitational

All five teams MT faces finished 2013 in the top-51 in RPI

February 6, 2014 · @MTAthletics

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - The Middle Tennessee softball team will start its 2014 season with the Troy Subway Invitational tomorrow through Sunday, playing five games in the three day stretch against Kennesaw State (Feb. 7 at 9:30 a.m.), Memphis (Feb. 7 at 1 p.m.), North Florida (Feb. 8 at 1:30 p.m.) No. 6/6 Alabama (Feb. 8 at 7:30 p.m.) and Northwestern State (Feb. 9 at noon).

The Blue Raiders schedule features five teams that finished last season in the top-51 in RPI.

"It is going to be a taxing weekend for us," said Head Coach Jeff Breeden. "We are going to see how we stand and how far we have come from last season. We really need for our power hitters to step up and generate some RBI numbers, and are also really anxious to see how our freshmen perform."

MT brings back seven of its starters from last season and has its top three pitchers back in the circle. Seniors Nina Dever and Kayla Toney along with junior Laura Dukes are expected to make some contributions both in the field and at the plate.

Dukes was recently named College Sports Madness Conference USA First Team selection and led the Blue Raiders in four offensive categories last season. Her .281 batting average, seven home runs, 24 walks and .477 slugging percentage were all a team-best. Dever, who will play from center field, finished 2013 with All-Sun Belt Second Team honors after hitting a .257 average with a team-high 20 RBI while slapping five home runs. Toney added 13 RBI last season with four home runs and led the team with nine doubles.

Inside the circle, Jordyn Fisherback, Shelby Stinnett and Caitlin McClure look to help right the ship and limit the opposing offenses. Fisherback and McClure tied with a team-high three wins last season, while Fisherback pitched 120.1 innings with six complete games. Stinnett made 32 appearances with 15 starts in 2013 and tallied 90.1 innings pitched.

"We are looking for consistence from all three [Fisherback, Stinnett and McClure]," Breeden said. "We are looking to see what they have been working on in the offseason and see what their pitches are doing what they are supposed to be doing. We hope they give us a chance to be in the game and win at the end."

Of the newcomers to the 2014 Blue Raiders, Cheyenne Willis, McKena Miller, Marinna Shadley and Austyn Whaley each have an opportunity to make their presence felt. Shadley will help fill the void left by graduated third baseman Kristi Marquez, who started 36 games last season and tallied a .274 batting average, good enough for third on the team.

Miller and Willis each plan to work in the outfield, opposite of Dever in center field. Willis played her 2012 freshman season for Chattanooga and earned All-Southern Conference Second Team honors after compiling a .350 batting average with 57 hits, 11 doubles, four triples, four home runs and 38 RBI.

The Blue Raiders start the Troy Subway Invitational with an early morning game against Kennesaw State at 9:30 a.m. Live stats are available by clicking here and fans can keep up with the action by following Blue Raider Softball on Twitter at @MT_Softball.

Scouting the Opposition:
Kennesaw State Owls (Kennesaw State leads series 2-0)
The KSU Owls bring back 16 letterwinners from a 34-20 2013 team that finished fifth in the Atlantic Sun conference. Seven starters also return from last season's squad including Amanda Henderson, who was a 2013 A-Sun Second-Team All-Conference selection. Henderson led the team with an 18-4 record and a 2.00 era in 34 appearances with 25 games started.

Sara Sikes also joins the returning group of position players after hitting .312 with a team-high 13 doubles last season, along with 53 hits and 18 RBI while starting 53 games. Catcher Angie Dascoli will aid Sikes in setting up the Owl attack. Dascoli was third on the team with 19 RBI and sits behind Sikes in the group of returners with 39 hits.

Memphis Tigers (Memphis leads series 7-2)
Memphis, who played in Conference USA last season before leaving to join the American Athletic Conference in 2014, compiled a 24-36 overall record, going 8-16 in C-USA play. The Tigers bring back 14 letterwinners from last season, while only losing five, but they did lose their top two offensive weapons from last season, Lelani Bernardino and Morgan Mosby. Bernaardino hit .307 with 12 doubles and a team-high 78 total bases, while starting all 60 games. Mosby tallied a .301 average, tying Bernardino with a team-best 58 hits and accounting for a team-high 28 RBI.

Memphis returns its top two pitchers from last season, Ellen Roberts and Jordan Richwood, who accounted for 23 of the Tigers' 24 wins. Roberts made 49 appearances with 35 games started for a 15-23 record. Richwood compiled an 8-12 record over 21 starts.

North Florida Osprey (North Florida leads series 1-0)
The UNF Ospreys bring back eight of 10 position players and three pitchers from a 2013 squad that finished 42-15 and 18-6 in A-Sun play. The Ospreys were A-Sun Regular Season Champions and will play the 2014 slate without Marissa Thomas and Jackie Reese. Thomas totaled a .287 average, while knocking 43 hits and 23 RBI. Reese started 56 games and finished second on the team with 33 RBI.

Among the many position players returning for UNF, Danica Mandarano led the Ospreys with a .345 average, while tying Kelly Wilson for a team-best 57 hits. Wilson led the team with 15 doubles, while adding two triples and two home runs. Mariah Reynolds slapped 11 home runs with eight doubles and one triple for a .568 slugging percentage.

Kaylie Wallace led the pitching efforts for UNF in 2013, tallying a 24-7 record with a 1.63 ERA. Wallace was tagged 2014 Atlantic Sun Preseason Pitcher of the Year.

No. 6/6 Alabama Crimson Tide (Alabama leads series 5-0)
The Tide return eight starting position players from last season's 45-15 team that advanced to the 2013 Super Regional in Knoxville, Tenn., before losing two games to Tennessee. 'Bama loses one of its top offensive weapons and NFCA and Easton All-American Kayla Braud, who hit a team-best .471. Behind Braud is a plethora of players, which include Haylie McCleney and Kaila Hunt, who both earned NFCA Second-team All-America honors.

McCleney hit .465 with 41 RBI, while tying Hunt with a team-high 120 total bases. Hunt led the Tide with 50 RBI and 15 homeruns and finished second in doubles with 11.

Alabama also has starting pitcher/utility player Jackie Traina coming back for 2014. Traina had a team-low 2.49 era, while throwing 199.2 innings for a 19-8 record with 214 strikeouts. She also hit .333 with 45 RBI and 13 homeruns.

Northwestern State Demons (First meeting)
The Northwestern State Demons bring back 11 letterwinners from a team that went to the NCAA Regionals for the first time since 2002 and finished 40-15. The Demons return their top four hitters, including Brianna Rodriquez. Rodriquez hit .347 in 55 games while tallying a team-best 20 doubles and 46 RBI.

Adding to the Demons' fire power is Cassandra Barefield, who totaled 50 hits with 14 doubles, 45 RBI and team-best 102 total bases.

Northwestern State's pitching staff is highlighted by the return of Kaylee Guidry. Guidry notched a 12-4 record with a 2.06 ERA. She was second on the team with 98.1 innings pitched, 76 strikeouts and six complete games.

Follow the Blue Raiders on Twitter @MTAthletics for continued updates.