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  • PSU softball tabbed 5th

  • The Pittsburg State softball team, returning 16 players and 10 players with 20 more starts last season, was picked fifth in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association preseason poll released Wednesday.

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  • The Pittsburg State softball team, returning 16 players and 10 players with 20 more starts last season, was picked fifth in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association preseason poll released Wednesday.
    The Gorillas were predominantly a young team last season — only three seniors, including MIAA Player of the Year Amanda DeCastro and lead pitcher Hilary Erbert — and the roster for this season includes a large number of underclassmen (14 sophomores and freshmen) for second-year head coach Elizabeth Economon.
    “We will certainly miss them,” Economon said. “We will miss Manny’s offensive abilities. She was unlike any other I’ve coached. We’re not looking to replace her necessarily but we need to get better all-around. Last year, she carried us for a while and then Tiffany Brown carried us for a while, so between the two of them, they made up a ton of our offensive production. We need to do a better job of hitting 1-9 in the lineup and not rely on that one bat. It would be nice to have that bat but we’re going to work on being a stronger lineup through-and-through.
    “Hilary, on the mound, we brought in four new pitchers. One returning from injury last year and three new faces. We’ve got the staff to do it. The leadership is what we need most at this point, losing three seniors and smart kids where they were in it for all the right reasons. That’s the biggest component we need to fill.”
    Pitt State finished 2012 with a 29-28 overall record, 13-11 at home and 13-9 away, and 11-9 in the MIAA, qualifying for the MIAA postseason tourney. The season was highlighted by a school record tying 15-game winning streak.
    “What we learned most last year was that we can compete and now we have to compete for the entire season, which is easier said than done,” Economon said. “We could talk about it all day but we had a good stretch in the middle of the season where we played really well. We would like to do that longer and maybe peak a little bit later. That’s all experience. We’re 14 underclassmen still, so we’re very young but they’re very eager to learn, thank God.”
    Two veteran players on this year’s squad are seniors Kreslee Ketcham and Katelyn Birchfield. Ketcham led the Gorillas with 56 games started last year and she batted .308 with eight home runs and 33 RBI.
    “She’s our . . . I think the kids think she represents what we’re about,” Economon said. “She’s the face, at this point she’s been here all four years, she and Katelyn Birchfield, they’ve been through everything here. They will not settle for anything less than the best here this year. We expect big things out of Kreslee. She’s obviously a potent offensive threat. We expect that out of her for sure but she’s such a leader on and off the field. We’re going to go as she goes.”
    Page 2 of 3 - DeCastro ended the season with the PSU single-season home run record (17) but teammate Tiffany Brown actually broke the school record first with her 15 home runs. Brown started 51 games and drove in 51 runs. Her 15 home runs and 51 RBI were both second behind DeCastro. Brown hit .390 and posted a slugging percentage of .733. During her freshman season, Brown had predominantly been used as a pitcher, rarely hitting.
    “She was one of the biggest surprises for everybody else in our conference,” Economon said. “I would say they weren’t expecting that out of her. She swings the bat well but her mentality inside the box is what sets her apart. She just always wants more and she’s in attack mode. She always wants to get a hit. We know that she’s had to work hard to improve her overall offensive game and not rely on the long ball. We expect her to be a big part of our offense.”
    Economon said that Brown devoted time in the offseason to hitting to the opposite field and moving runners, qualities of fully-rounded hitters.
    Leadoff hitter Brenna George scored 51 runs in 53 games and led the Gorillas with seven triples and 22 stolen bases in 26 attempts. Speed proves to be George’s most dangerous weapon and her most valuable asset to her team.
    “Looking back on the season and she would tell you the same thing,” Economon said, “when she was on, we were on. She’s the perfect table setter. The momentum and pace of the game is dependent upon her first at-bat. I know she’s not going to get on base every time but if she puts pressure on and sees a lot of pitches and if she can get on base, then everybody on defense has to worry. She’s definitely a good player to have on our side.”
    Sophomore outfielder Cheslyn Mitchell came on strong her freshman season and finished hitting .405 with 46 runs scored, 66 hits, 21 doubles (team high), six home runs and 43 RBI. We can expect less pitching from Mitchell this year, especially with the addition of four new arms.
    “She’ll be mainly focused on the outfield this year,” Economon said. “We always have her on call, if we ever need her. She’s working defensively left field and center field and hitting a lot. She’s one of those players where she has a natural ability and it’s nice to have that left-handed bat because we don’t have a bunch of those. She gets better and better everyday, smarter and smarter. She learns a lot more about herself and it helps her become a better hitter. It’s fun to watch.”
    Those four new arms include junior Samantha Grove (returning from injury), freshman Kylie Harpst, freshman Kyndel Shelburn and freshman Haleigh Sills, a graduate of Riverton High School and transfer from Cowley County CC.
    Page 3 of 3 - Last season, Pitt State developed into a potent home run threat, outslugging its opponents 59-31 in homers, 324-281 in runs scored, 96-71 in doubles and 283-254 in RBI. This power advantage was often most seen at the friendly confines of the PSU Softball Complex.
    “Last year, we never coached to hit home runs,” Economon said. “Obviously, if they go out, we’re very happy. We preach the line drive and the wind always seems to be blowing out to left at our place. With the short porch, we had some success there and we hope to do similar things. We’d like to not live and die by the home run as much this year but certainly our pitchers are aware the fences are at 190 at well. They know to keep the ball down. We play 26 home games this year and the kids are pumped about that.”
    Pitt State plays its first 16 games in nonconference play, including four games apiece in three tournaments and a doubleheader against Newman in Wichita, as well as a doubleheader against Drury in Springfield.
    The Gorillas open their season Feb. 16-17 in the Saint Leo Tournament down in the warmer climes of Florida.
    “We have 56 games we can play in the regular season and 28 conference instead of 46 (like the baseball team),” Economon said. “They have a million. It’s good and bad. It’s good because we get out and play regional opponents. That will help us when it’s all said and done. It makes scheduling challenging. It’s good to get outside the box.
    “Last year, three out of the six teams we played were ranked in the top 25. I know who we’re playing but the national rankings don’t come out until the 30th. We don’t know exactly where they stand. Tampa, we played last year and they were tough. We play them again and we know we’re getting a good game out of them. Saint Leo, they do a good job and they’re getting better.”
    Every coach in the MIAA addresses conference expansion sooner or later. In the softball world, for example, Central Oklahoma finished 2012 with a 46-9 record and No. 2 overall in the final rankings.
    “It makes our conference tougher and I always think the MIAA was one of the toughest DII softball conferences in the nation,” Economon said. “Adding four teams makes it a little bit tougher and adds a little bit of travel. But it kind of makes it exciting at the same time, new faces.”
    Pitt State opens MIAA play at home Mar. 15 with a doubleheader against Northeastern State. The Gorillas will also host Central Oklahoma the next day.

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