The Clarisa Crowell era of Miami University softball will begin Friday morning in Atlanta when the RedHawks face Indiana in the Georgia Tech Classic.
What should MU fans expect after a 41-20 season that included a Mid-American Conference championship and a 1-2 mark in the NCAA tournament?
“It’s hard for me to project what any of my kids are going to do because I haven’t seen them in games,” said Crowell, an assistant coach at Oklahoma State the last six years. “I had six games in the fall, and it’s just not enough.
“But I can say their energy and their attitudes have been great. I believe Miami should compete for a conference championship every year. In order for us to get there, we have to have that mentality and raise the bar.”
The RedHawks return quite a bit of talent, but four key players are gone: Jessica Simpson (32-15, 1.29 ERA, 358 strikeouts in 308.2 innings), Daniela Torres (.296, seven HRs, 31 RBIs, 16 steals), Jordan McElroy (.292, 29 RBIs) and Casey Drees (.263, 22 RBIs).
The defending MAC East champions have been picked to finish fourth in their division this year.
“We’re in a lot better place being ranked fourth than we would be first because first place brings pressure, and I don’t want my kids to have pressure,” Crowell said. “I need them to just go out there and play.”
Junior Paige Myers is Miami’s No. 1 pitcher after serving as Simpson’s backup the last two years. Myers was 8-2 with a 2.36 ERA in 2012, collecting 64 strikeouts in 100.2 innings.
Sophomore Megan Mattera and freshman Jenna Modic are MU’s other two hurlers.
“All three of my pitchers are going to pitch,” Crowell said. “But Paige Myers will definitely be our go-to kid. I don’t think she’ll have the strikeout numbers that Jessica Simpson had, but she’s a competitor. I’m the pitching coach, so I need a kid out there who’s mentally tough.”
Returning starters include junior catcher Kayla Ledbetter (.276, 4 HRs, 25 RBIs), junior first baseman Allie Larrabee (.275, 18 RBIs), junior second baseman Kristy Arbour (.290, six RBIs), sophomore shortstop Kylie McChesney (.257, 3 HRs, 10 RBIs) and junior outfielder Kirstie Fehrenbach (.321, 14 stolen bases).
Sophomore Shanyn McIntyre (.328, 2 HRs, 19 RBIs) started in the outfield last year and is now at third base. Returnees who did some starting last year are infielder Mattera, sophomore utility player Remy Edwards, sophomore outfielder Tiyona Marshall, junior outfielder Brandi Hernandez and sophomore outfielder Bree Lipscomb of Middletown.
All three freshmen — outfielder Taylor Shuey, utility player Hailey Reed and infielder Modic — are battling for starting spots.
“When you have really, really good pitching, it makes up for a lot of other things,” Crowell said. “I don’t know if we have that one thing that we can say is our strength. We’re going to have to be good at everything.
“I don’t think we have enough speed to say we’re just going to be burners on the bases, and we’re not just going to be a slugging team. Would it be nice to be one or the other? Absolutely, but I think we’re going to have to do a little bit of everything.”
Crowell said the team has dealt with a rash of injuries and illness in the preseason, but the RedHawks are slowly getting better.
“You’d like to think you’re 100 percent at the beginning of the year. I think with my team, we’re going to go just the opposite,” Crowell said. “Hopefully we’ll keep getting healthier.”
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