02/17/05 — Improved MOC softball team hopes for more in '05

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Improved MOC softball team hopes for more in '05

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on February 17, 2005 1:55 PM

MOUNT OLIVE - Learning how to finish.

Mount Olive's softball team had all the attributes of a winning team in 2004, except that crucial, final key ingredient. With seven freshman starters, the Trojans endured nine one-run defeats and lost two other games in which they had the lead or were tied going into the sixth inning.

Mount Olive still doubled its win total from 2003 and finished with a 14-35 mark overall and 6-14 in the NCAA Division II Carolinas-Virginia Athletic Conference.

Still young, but with more experience and continuity among the 2005 team, third-year coach Jamie Kylis is optimistic about a substantial turnaround this season.

"I think the big thing that was missing the last few years was leadership. We have had trouble finishing," Kylis said. "I think the leadership is starting to come, and it's helping me as a coach in every aspect of the program.

"They are starting to expect more from each other."

Mount Olive's roster consists of eight freshmen and eight sophomores with no juniors and just two seniors.

With a season-opening doubleheader slated for today at Francis Marion (S.C.) University, Kylis was still unsure of a starting nine and where they would play. The team seems to have ample versatility and depth, and Kylis likes the idea of her players competing for starting spots on a game-to-game basis.

"I try not to dwell on who I start. It depends on how they do pre-game and in warm-ups," she said "Everything is open. We've got four girls who can throw four different ways. We've got several girls who can hit the ball deep. It comes down to who wants it more.

"That's a fun part of being the coach."

Kylis is hoping the precedent set this past fall by the men's and women's soccer, and women's volleyball teams will carry over into the spring. Outfielder Emily Escolas was a part of the CVAC tournament championship women's soccer team, while pitcher Ashley Napoles contributed in the Trojans' run to the NCAA Division II regionals in volleyball.

"The fall sports coaches over here kind of put some pressure on us spring coaches, but I hope it set an example," Kylis said. "We had Ashley talk to the team about how it felt to win a conference championship and I want my girls to have that same feeling."

Kylis especially wants her first recruit, utility player Becky Garrod, to be a part of a successful run in her final campaign.

"To have her be a part of the first year when we had nothing, to now she's here when we have lights. She's seen the process come full circle," Kylis said.

Herbie Mulqueen was promoted to assistant coach last summer and will serve as the head coach of the junior varsity team. MulQueen was a student assistant last season.

On the mound

Mount Olive's four pitchers -- a quartet of right-handers -- each bring something unique to the table this season.

Senior junior college transfer Erin Case is strictly an off-speed hurler, while sophomore Shauna Cowdrey throws a heavy fastball. Napoles also throws a solid fastball, but with more movement; while fellow freshman Aimee Rogers specializes in the dropball.

"It's hard to say who the number one is. I just have to do my job as a coach to know my opponent and what their weaknesses are. They've all been throwing the ball well," Kylis said.

Case and Cowdrey did all of the pitching last year -- combining for a 3.83 earned run average. Case tossed three shutouts last season, while Cowdrey pitched one.

At the plate

Sophomore Kristie Smith returns as an All-CVAC performer at designated hitter. Smith hit just .239, but led the team in doubles (9) and RBI (24).

On a team that hit 70 points higher in the second half of the season than it did in the first half, sophomore Erin Wilson batted over .400 in the final month of 2004. She finished with a .338 average with a team-best three triples and 15 walks.

"It was a confidence thing. Erin is very tricky. She can drag, she can bunt, she can hit," Kylis said. "She might hit one off the fence, then bunt one down the third base line next time up. She has a green light to do whatever she feels. She's very effective in learning how to read a defense."

Wilson will likely hit in the lead-off or second spot in the order.

Behind Wilson, Kylis expects Smith, freshman catcher Ashley Harrell and Napoles to anchor the top of the order.

"They are quite the nasty trio when you put those three together in practice," Kylis added.

As a team, the Trojans batted .226 last season.

Flashing the leather

The team is versatile and Kylis believes there may be consistent adjusting to Mount Olive's defensive look -- especially in the early season. Second baseman Colleen Thomas and first baseman Jamie Pruitt should anchor the infield.

"Colleen knows the defense very well and Jamie has great hands at first," Kylis said.

Kinston High graduate Bailey Harrell, Kristina Smatt and Pruitt provide depth behind the plate.

In the grass, Kylis has been especially impressed with the speedy newcomer Escolas and sophomore Jackie Wyman.

"Emily (Escolas) makes diving catches that I have no idea how she gets to," she said.

Also competing for a spot in the outfield is former Eastern Wayne standout Alexis Briley. Briley red-shirted last year and seems eager to get back on the field.

"She was actually one of my most anticipated players last year. I still see her as that senior in high school making diving plays," Kylis said. "She's had to make some extra steps forward, but she's doing a great job and has a beautiful attitude."

Schedule and CVAC

Mount Olive faces Francis Marion, Shaw and UNC-Pembroke in non-conference games this month before opening CVAC play at home on Feb. 26 against Lees-McRae.

The Trojans received 40 points in the preseason poll and were picked to finish eighth in the 11-team league. Mount Olive was seven points behind St. Andrews and six points ahead of Pfeiffer.

Coker got seven first-place votes to finish first in the poll, while defending champion Belmont Abbey finished second in the voting. Anderson and Queens also picked up first-place votes.

Kylis sees the conference race as being wide open.

"We hung with every team in the conference. It's not like one team blew us away completely," she said. "There is a lot of stuff I have to prove to the conference. We pretty much started from scratch. The lower you put us, the more fire you put underneath us to prove them wrong.

"I think Anderson is going to be in the final game. They are competitive, and they are fun to play because they play a good game."

She also sees Queens, Barton and Coker as possible front-runners.

"I would like to also say we will battle for the top too," she added.

The field

Nancy Chapman Cassell Field will have a new and improved look this season.

"The Best Dugouts," named in honor of Best Brothers Used Cars were completed this summer, while lights were also added this off-season.

"The field is beautiful. We are so proud of it. Dalton Proctor helped with everything we have out there," Kylis said. "Out of all the fields in this conference, we have the best now by far. At this time last year, we had no dugouts. Now, we have lights and dugouts.

"It's college softball and that's the way it should be. The kids take as much pride in it as I do."