HARRISONBURG, Va., Feb. 16, 2012 – Returning seven starting position players and two pitchers from last year’s team, the James Madison softball is set to begin its 2012 season at the Elon Phoenix Softball Clash in Burlington, N.C. this weekend.
JMU is scheduled to play four games in the two-day tournament, including twice against tournament-host Elon and one game each against Presbyterian and Bucknell. JMU’s first pitch of the season will come at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 18 against Presbyterian.
In total, the Dukes, who were picked to finish fourth in the CAA Coaches Preseason Poll, return 14 letterwinners from last year’s squad that went 29-23 overall and 8-12 in league play. Leading the way are senior middle infielders and captains, shortstop Ashley Burnham (Danvers, Mass./Danvers) and second baseman Caitlen Manning (Prince George, Va./Prince George). Burnham who was named a candidate for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS award on Wednesday, is a two-time First Team All-CAA performer who hit .365 with 44 runs, 32 RBIs, 12 doubles, five triples and a school record 13 home runs in 2011. Manning contributed a .306 average, adding 29 runs, 12 doubles, six home runs and 30 RBIs.
Sophomore third baseman Caitlin Sandy (Fayetteville, N.C./Jack Britt) looks to build on a solid rookie year that saw her named First Team All-CAA and an All-Rookie selection while junior first baseman Haley Johnson (Ashburn, Va./Broad Run) and junior catcher/designated player Megan Shinaberry (Davie, Fla./McCarthy) round out the returning starters in the infield for Madison.
In the outfield, junior center fielder Jasmine Butler (Winter Garden, Fla./West Orange) led the conference with a .371 batting average while also stealing 19 bases and driving in 23 runs. She was a Second Team All-CAA and Louisville Slugger/NFCA All-Region selection a year ago. Fellow junior outfielder Lori Botkin (Manassas, Va./Osbourn) led the team with 14 doubles and started 46 games last season.
In the circle, Madison brings back junior right-hander Cara Stecher (New Castle, Del./Caravel Academy) and sophomore right-hander Brittany Jeans (Camano Island, Wash./Stanwood). Stecher went 10-1 with a 3.01 ERA while striking out 61 batters in 86 innings pitched before missing the second half of the season with an injury. Jeans won seven games and struck out 50 batters in 96 1/3 inning pitched in her rookie campaign.
The Dukes will look to a mixture of returning players and freshmen to fill the void left by a trio of graduated starters. Gone from last year’s squad are catcher Katie Spitzer (2008-11), outfielder Chel’sea Ryan (2007-11) and pitcher Olivia McPherson (2010-11) as well as leaders in third baseman Lauren Robison (2008-11) and right-handed pitcher Heather Widner (2009-11).
JMU is 5-5 all-time in its season-openers and 19-22 overall on the opening weekend of the season.
SCOUTING THE OPPONENTS
The Blue Hose opened their season last week in Charlotte, N.C., going 1-1 with a win over Charlotte and a loss to Delaware. They were picked to finish eighth in the eight-team Big South. Last season, they went 28-20-1 overall and 10-8 in conference play.
Jill McLean and Morgan Durham each collected three hits in six at bats last weekend with Durham adding two runs and two walks. Shelby Petik picked up the team’s lone extra-base hit, collecting a double, three runs scored and an RBI in eight at bats.
In the circle, Cat Tarvin went 1-0 with a 1.40 ERA and four strikeouts in five innings of relief. She allowed two runs, one earned, on four hits and two walks in her lone appearance of the weekend. Leslie Hensley and Kensley Loudermelk each started a game and combined to pitch eight innings over the weekend.
Presbyterian is coached by former JMU pitching coach Kama Tucker who is in her first year with the Blue Hose. In six seasons as a head coach she has a 145-95-4 all-time record.
The Phoenix opened their season last weekend, going 4-0 in the Elon Invitational. They won twice over N.C. Central while taking single games from Liberty and Georgetown. Elon, which outscored its opponents 35-9 last weekend, were picked to finish sixth in the nine-team Southern Conference after going 30-24 and 12-12 in league play.
Outfielder Tomeka Watson was a preseason First Team All-SoCon selection and through four games is hitting .455 with two doubles, six runs and seven RBIs. Camille Hill added nine runs on her way to being named the conference’s Player of the Week while preseason All-SoCon Second Team selection, Carleigh Nestor hit .667 with eight RBIs and four stolen bases.
In the circle, Erin O’Shea allowed just one run over 12 innings pitched to go 2-0 with a 0.58 ERA over the weekend. The senior struck out 12 and gave up just eight hits while tossing two complete games. Kari Pervell added one start and allowed two runs and struck out four in six innings pitched.
Head coach Kathy Bocock is in her first season as the interim head coach of the Phoenix after two seasons as an assistant coach. Prior to coming to Elon, she spent 15 seasons as the head softball coach at Averett.
Like JMU, the Bison are playing their first games of the season this weekend. They went 14-36 a year ago and 5-15 in the Patriot League. They were picked to finish tied for fifth in the Patriot League’s preseason poll.
Offensively they must replace the 2011 Patriot League Player of the Year in Allison Ford. Leading the way will be junior Mary Horton who hit .264 with five doubles, a triple, six runs and three steals a year ago. Also returning is Meredith Dickson who started 34 games a year ago and had four doubles, eight runs and eight RBIs.
The Bison do return their top two pitchers from last season in juniors Bridget Gates and Alex MacLean. Gates won six games and had a 2.77 ERA in 24 games started last season. She struck out 85 and walked just 44 in 149 innings pitched. MacLean had eight wins and a 3.23 ERA. She struck out 116 and led the team in innings pitched with 162 2/3.
Heather Rakosik is in her eighth season with Bucknell. She has gone 130-209-2 with the Bison and 302-291-3 in 12 seasons overall as a head coach.
JMU has played 10 game all-time against this weekend’s foes. The Dukes are 2-1 all-time against Bucknell, including splitting a pair of games with the Bison in 2011. Each team won a 4-0 decision in season-opening Kickin’ Chicken Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Elon leads the series history with JMU 5-2, but the Dukes won the last meeting between the teams 2-1 in 2008. The Phoenix won the first four meetings in the series while JMU took two of the last three games between the foes.
JMU and Presbyterian will meet for the first time in this weekend’s action.
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