The importance of experienced athletes in college sports is hard to overestimate. And the adage that a successful softball team must be strong up the middle is equally difficult to dispute. Considering those two axioms, it should be a banner year for the St. Catharine College Patriots.
Holly Smith, entering her ninth year as head coach of the Patriots, welcomes back what is arguably her strongest group of returnees. Among them is a talented tandem at shortstop and second base, an experienced center fielder and two pitchers who logged time in the circle last year.
“One of our biggest strengths right now is the return of Hagan Goldey at shortstop and Taylor Steff at second base,” said Smith. “Also key pitching from (Krystal) Cammuse will help. And (Brandi) Hood as a leadoff hitter should be a strength as well.”
With those four returning (Hood as the center fielder), the Patriots will definitely be strong up the middle defensively and the quartet should also provide good offensive punch. Hagan Goldey, who hit .399 last season, and Taylor Steff, at .369, are the leading batters among returnees. Goldey and Steff are also the top RBI players returning as they knocked in 38 runs apiece last season. Hood batted .283 with 24 RBI’s.
Cammuse turned in 58 innings pitched, second on the team to Ashley Cardenas who graduated, and led the team in strikeouts with 45 while compiling a 5.55 ERA. When she is not throwing, senior Ashley Hardin, with just seven innings of work last year, will do some pitching. Also expected to see some pitching duties will be sophomore Shelbi Thornhill and freshman Brittany McKee.
Those pitchers will be throwing to freshman catcher Bethany Hensley. Starting at the corners will be Thornhill at first base and, when not pitching, Cammuse at third base. McKee and freshman Grace Mills will also see playing time at the hot corner and freshman Caitlyn Blair will play first when Thornhill moves in to pitch.
Flanking Hood in the outfield will most likely be Hardin in left field and Chelcie Rein in right field. Rein, a senior, was third on the team in home runs last year with seven. Junior college transfer Hillary Dwyer will also see action in left field and freshman Emily Fenwick could see time in right field as well as designated hitter.
The Patriots are looking to improve on last year’s 25-33 record that included an 8-16 Mid-South Conference slate. After enduring a stretch where they lost 17 of 19 games, the Patriots played their best ball late in the year when they won seven of their last 11 games that included a third place finish in the Mid-South Conference tournament.
With St. Catharine in its sixth year of participation in the NAIA and the Mid-South, Smith is aware of how rigorous the schedule can be.
“This will be the toughest schedule we’ve had since I’ve been here ,” said the SC coach. “We are playing three nationally ranked teams, one of which is in our conference (Lindsey Wilson). More than half of our schedule will be conference games but finishing third in the tournament last year was enough for the returners to get a taste of what that is like. Now they are thirsty for more but it is always tough in the MSC.”
Making things somewhat tougher this year will be the absence of outfielder Kasie Prather who led the conference in batting last year with a robust .436 average. Prather also led the team in doubles (21), home runs (11) and on base percentage (.486). Prather was sixth in the nation in doubles and eighth in hits per game with 1.5 a contest.
“Kasie started all four years in center field and someone will have big shoes to fill on defense as well as at the plate,” added Smith.
Smith concluded, “We are very excited about the upcoming season. The players are enthused and anxious to get started. I am fully confident that we will compete this season. Our main objective is to beat the teams we are supposed to beat and compete with the teams who may be a little more talented than us. By competing with those teams, our effort and drive to win will get us some wins against some of those teams.”
The Patriots begin the season at home February 22nd with a doubleheader against #24 Indiana Wesleyan. That Saturday twin bill starts at noon and will be followed by another doubleheader against Indiana Wesleyan on Sunday the 23rd.