Softball team opens season in Louisiana

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

With six seniors leading the way and a flurry of experienced younger players, the Eastern softball team puts that experience to the test this weekend at the Mardi Gras Classic.

The Panthers open their season against Iowa and Louisiana on Friday and follow that with a double header against Samford and Louisiana on Saturday. They wrap up their opening weekend against Evansville on Sunday.

Senior pitcher Jessica Wireman has handled a bulk of the pitching duties since she showed up on campus and hopes that this is the year that the Panthers get to the OVC Championship.

The Panthers have been able to find their way into the tournament the last three years in her career, but have yet to win it.

Eastern’s opening matchup, Iowa, struggled in 2017 going 19-32 and finished 9-14 in BIG 10 games.

The Hawkeyes return their most-used pitcher from 2017 as Allison Doocy is back for her sophomore season.

She put together a 9-15 record with a 2.80 ERA, as well as 119 strikeouts.

Iowa used two pitchers heavily, just as Eastern does with Wireman and senior Michelle Rogers, but Shayla Starkenburg graduated last spring.

Hitting wise for Iowa, its leading hitter Cheyenne Pratt returns for her senior year after hitting .275 last season. Iowa lost its two RBI leaders to graduation as Claire Fritsch and Kaitlyn Mullarkey, who knocked in 16 runs, graduated.

Louisiana, on the other hand, dominated in 2017 going 47-8 overall with a 23-1 conference record in the Sunbelt.

The Ragin’ Cajuns won the Sunbelt title with ease, but lost in the NCAA regionals to LSU in a best-of-three series. Louisiana won the first game, but LSU came back and won the next two.

In 2017, seven-of-eight position starters hit over .300, with the lowest of that group being .320.

One thing that was obvious for the Ragin’ Cajuns last year was that they score a lot and their two pitchers, Alex Stewart and Alyssa Denham did not give up a lot.

Louisiana outscored its opponents 454-125. Luckily for Eastern, neither pitcher is on the team this season as Stewart graduated and Denham left after her freshman season.

The two combined for a 42-7 record.

Eastern’s Saturday opponent, Samford, finished 25-36 record overall and 10-8 in the Southern Conference (SoCon).

Samford’s top hitter, Shelby Maze, returns in 2018 after hitting .423 in 2017.

The Bulldogs, just like Louisiana, lost their top two pitchers from last year in 2017 to graduation.

Eastern closes out the weekend with Evansville for its lone game on Sunday.

Evansville may have only finished 20-33 overall and 11-15 in the Missouri Valley Conference, but its hitters sure can hit the ball out of the park.

The Purple Aces hit 36 home runs as a team with their leader Morgan Florey returning. She slugged nine home runs in 2017.

Evansville graduated its two other top home run hitters last season.

Experience wise in the circle, Eastern takes that in stride, but all four teams this weekend bring back a core part of their starting lineups.

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