St. Catharine, Ky. – After making it to the Championship game of the Mid-South Conference tournament and falling in the finals to end the 2015 campaign, head coach Holly Smith has her team ready to go for the 2016 slate.
Smith, who is entering her 12th season as the head coach for the Patriots, guided her team to a 20-27 record overall in 2015. They will welcome back a strong group of returnees as well as a new crop of incoming freshman and some junior college transfers.
Smith was not only dealt with the job of replacing five seniors who graduated, but she also had to hire a new assistant coach after former assistant coach, Ashley Marinacci left for her first head coaching job at Adrian College in Adrian, Michigan.
Smith didn’t have to look far for an assistant coach as she hired former Patriot standout pitcher Krystal Cammuse. Cammuse, who was one of the five seniors lost to graduation last season, will be tough to replace on the field for the upcoming season.
Smith is excited about having Krystal on her staff. “Krystal is a great addition to our coaching staff! She knows the program inside and out, and knows what my expectations are as a coach. Holding down our career strikeout record on the mound it only seems fitting for her to work directly with our pitching staff. She will also assist with our hitting as well as working with both infielders and outfielders.”
The Patriots will look to junior Tiffany Wickline (Georgetown, Ky.), junior college transfer Jennifer Ortega (Delano, Calif.), as well as freshman Lexi Fugate (Bedford, Ind.) to fill the void left by Cammuse on the rubber. Senior Brittany McKee (Burnside, Ky.) will also see starting time, but will also be called upon to close a number of games. Freshman Casey Grant (Ft. Mitchell, Ky.) could also see time in the circle as a closer.
St. Catharine will return the services of Kelsey Gravens (Mt. Washington, Ky.) behind the plate. In her first season as starting catcher, Gravens was named to the Mid-South Conference first team after a stellar freshman campaign.
“Returning Kelsey behind the plate is a major strength for us. She is starting to become more vocal and starting to take ownership of her role on the team,” noted Smith. “She already brings so much to the plate, but she strives to make herself better each day.”
Freshman Sara Bibb (Louisville, Ky.) will most likely start at first for the Patriots, but Smith noted that Fugate as well as senior Caitlyn Blair (LaGrange, Ky.) could also see time at first.
Smith also noted that she is looking for someone to step up and take charge at second base. Sophomores Lynsie Clark (Morgantown, Ky.) and Alysa Coomes (Hardinsburg, Ky.) as well as redshirt freshman Aliyah Johnson (Louisville, Ky.) and Alexis Lewis (Spring, Texas) are all competing for the starting role at second.
On the left side of the infield the Patriots will look for Katie Hansgen (Louisville, Ky.) to step up in her sophomore campaign as starting shortstop. As for third base, Brittany McKee and Lexi Fugate will both see time at the hot corner.
Starting in the outfield will come down to who is hitting and who is making the necessary plays, but it will also be affected by the pitching rotation. Sophomore Carly Benz (Louisville, Ky.), as well as Jennifer Ortega, Tiffany Wickline, and senior Emily Fenwick (Lebanon, Ky.) and freshman Taylor Lewis (Spring, Texas) could all see time in the outfield.
Smith noted that even though her team lost five seniors, they still have a competitive edge, “It is hard to pick out a solid nine because everyone is competing for a spot and they are giving everything they have.”
“We have had more diving plays than in the past, more stolen bases, delay steals, and more aggressive base running. Everyone is going that extra mile to stand out or be noticed and it’s great to have that kind of effort day in and day out,” said Smith.
Having a young team can be a good thing, but at the same time it can be a challenge. “We are looking for some new leadership roles to be filled,” added Smith. “We are a young team and with youth comes inexperience and it will takes time to grow and develop.”
The Patriots open their season at the Martin Methodist Meltdown in Pulaski, Tenn. on February 12th and 13th. The Patriots have their home opener slated for Friday, February 19th, against Purdue University Calumet at 1 p.m. ET.