Eastern softball picked to finish 6th in OVC preseason rankings

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

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The Eastern softball team is set to start its season Feb. 12 after being ranked sixth in the Ohio Valley Conference pre-season rankings.

Tennessee Tech is picked to win the conference with Jacksonville State, Murray State, Southern Illinois-Edwardsville and Eastern Kentucky rounding out the top five.

“I think it’s a fair ranking,” coach Angie Nicholson said. “I don’t sit there and say ‘we should be number one.’”

She said if they can do what they have to do as a team, other teams will wonder “where did EIU come from.”

The Panthers have been limited to only practicing inside for the last couple of months. Nicholson said the team is starting to get excited to finally get back on real dirt.

The Panthers finished the 2015 season with a 21-27 overall record and a 14-11 record in OVC play. Eastern’s season came to an end after a first round loss in the OVC tournament.

Bailey O’Dell and Hannah Cole were two of the top hitters for Eastern’s offense last year but were lost to graduation. O’Dell hit .338 on the year and Cole posted a .361 batting average.

Even though the Panthers lost two of their top players, they have brought in five freshmen and returned 13 players from last year’s roster.

Freshman outfielder Kayla Bear was one of the freshmen that stood out in the fall. Bear had a batting average close to .700 in the fall. She was able to hit a few home runs and also get a few triples.

“She is going to do fantastic,” Nicholson said. “I don’t want to jinx it, but she’s going to do a great job for us.”

Freshman Jennifer Ames also stood out at the plate, hitting homeruns and doubles just like Bear.

Cole was the team’s starting catcher last year and with her graduating, sophomore Andrea Roberts and junior Ashlynne Paul will fill the role at catcher.

Also returning for the Panthers this year will be sophomore pitchers, Jessica Wireman and Michelle Rogers. Wireman and Rogers picked up a majority of the innings for the Panthers last year. The two pitched a combined 289 innings out of 315.1.

“I think our two pitchers have grown tremendously,” Nicholson said.

Sophomore pitcher and first baseman Taylor Miokovic spent most of last year battling a knee injury and is still getting through it, but Nicholson said she hopes to possibly have her as an option as a pitcher.

Senior outfielders April Markowski and Jennette Isaac are back for the Panthers. Markowski had the second highest batting average on the team last year at .349.

Senior third baseman Haylee Beck, second baseman Katie Watson and first baseman Kylie Bennett will also be returning for Eastern this year.

Even though the Panthers have returned most of last year’s roster, Nicholson said the five freshmen have fit in with the rest of the team since day one.

“Our freshman have fit in since day one, it’s been fantastic,” Nicholson said. “It is a totally different dynamic and it’s a good feeling, it’s good vibes right now. Our freshmen are workers and so that has made the older kids work even harder.”

The upperclassmen have been acting as role models for the younger players, and everyone is on the same page.

Eastern will open its season in Ames, Iowa for the Iowa State Cyclone Invitational Feb. 12-14. The Panthers will take on Indiana-Purdue University Indianapolis, Iowa State and North Dakota. Conference play will not start until March. 19.

 

Sean Hastings can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]