If 2013 shapes up anything like 2012, it will be another banner year for the Panther Softball team. In 2012, the Panthers won the school's first conference championship, beating Trinity College in their first year eligible to compete in the postseason since the move from Division I to Division III. Winning the conference, the Panthers were selected to play in the Tyler, Texas Regional. The Panthers went 2-2 in Texas, sending home in-state rival Huntingdon College and Redlands out of California, who were at the time ranked tenth in the nation. The team finished the season with an overall record of 40-11 and was 15-1 in conference play.
In her second year at BSC, Head Coach Kimball Cassady was named Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) Co-Coach of the year. Center fielder Ashley Bice and pitcher Bethany Fronk earned First-Team All-Conference honors, third baseman Brittany Berkopec earned Second-Team All-SCAC honors, and second baseman Chelsea Fernandez received an SCAC Honorable Mention nod. Bice and Fronk were honored further by being voted as SCAC Co-Offensive Player and Pitcher of the Year, respectively.
It was another strong year off the field as well. The Panthers posted a team GPA of 3.2, which was the highest team GPA on campus, and seven Panthers landed on the SCAC Honor Roll: Jordan Allen, Taylor Basset, Bice, Ronni Ferris, Fronk, Beth Lefler, and Danielle Rucker.
"The success we had last year was such a tremendous accomplishment for our program and players," Cassady said. "With this being our first season eligible to compete for postseason, the girls decided in our first meeting that this would be our year. We held tight to our motto for the season: outwork. We decided as a team that no teams would outwork us. We decided we would be the most prepared mentally and physically."
The Panthers once again look to have another successful season but know they have any extremely tough schedule meeting up early with NAIA program Martin Methodist and Division III strongholds Emory and Roanoke, who are both top-five teams. With the loss of four great seniors and their tremendous leadership, Coach Cassady is excited about the incoming freshman class and feels they will make an immediate impact for the team. "They all have great work ethic and good personalities," Cassady said. "I expect great things to come from them!"
She is also looking for her new seniors and returners to take on that leadership role and pick up where they left off last season. "I think our team chemistry this year is going to be something special, and that it will be the reason we will win many games this season," Cassady said.
The pitching staff finished the season as one of the top staffs in the conference, with Ferris and Fronk carrying most of the load. The Panthers were first in the conference with the lowest ERA at 1.67. The team is excited about the return of conference Pitcher of the Year, Fronk, who was ranked seventh in the nation for lowest ERA. The Panthers also look for sophomore Kendall Watson to step in and add a good mix to the pitching staff. Freshman Deanna Creps will also add depth to the rotation. She had a stellar high school career at Guntersville High School and for the Birmingham Vipers softball organization. Coach Cassady and Assistant Coach Steve Meyer look for her to make an immediate impact on the pitching staff. "We believe our pitching staff has the potential to keep hitters of balance and out of rhythm," Cassady said.
Offensively the Panthers finished last season with the second-highest team batting average in the SCAC at .319. The Panthers return four hitters Berkopec, Fronk, Erin Lopez, and Chelsea Fernandez, who all hit above .300 last season, along with the conference homerun leader Taylor Bassett. "We have the ability to put pressure on defenses with a very good balance of hitting for average, power, and the ability to steal bases," Cassady said.
Although having a team batting average of .319 will be hard to beat, the Panthers are excited to add a few newcomers to the lineup that can make an immediate impact in the lineup. Katelyn Murray and Karley Chamblee are both great at taking the ball where it is pitched and hitting for the gaps, but can also add a bit of power to the lineup. Meagan Brown and Tiffany Schultz will add some power and extra base hits to the lineup.
Defensively, the Panthers are coming off a phenomenal season with an overall .971 fielding percentage and a conference best .981 in SCAC play. This year the catching position is up for grabs, with the potential to see three new faces in the mix. Elizabeth Ballew, an outfielder-turned-catcher, has a great arm, junior college transfer Meagan Brown adds some experience, and freshman Tiffany Shultz could also see time behind the plate this year.
In the infield, the Panthers should be strong as everyone from last season will be returning and will once again be anchored at third base with Berkopec, Fernandez at second base, Bassett at shortstop, and Lopez, who ended the season with a .330 batting average, at first. There will also be some new faces in the mix that will see playing time as well. Sophomore Alyssa Statham is still trying to work through a torn hip labrum but could see some playing time depending on her injury at one of the corner positions. She adds a big arm and power to the batting lineup. The corner positions could also see action from newcomer Tiffany Shultz.
The outfield will be full of speed and power but will also have some new faces this season. The Panthers return senior All-Conference honoree Danielle Rucker and the speedy sophomore Joanna Jernigan. Freshman Katelyn Murray and Karley Chamblee both have great arms, good range, and amazing work ethic. Both could be found roaming at any of the outfield positions.
BSC opens the 2013 season on the road on Saturday, Feb. 9, traveling to Pulaski, Tenn., to face Martin Methodist. The Panthers open their home slate on Saturday, Feb. 16, hosting Maryville College in a 1 p.m. doubleheader.