MOC softball preview
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on January 31, 2013 1:47 PM
Backpack in hand, Mount Olive College head softball coach Jaime Kylis remembers following her team off the field in heart-breaking fashion during the 2012 Conference Carolinas tournament.
The Trojans entered the double-elimination event as the favorite. They made a suprising -- and stunning -- exit after just two games.
Opposing teams heartily celebrated after upsetting MOC, which won the conference's East Division and posted 31 wins -- clearly enough work done to receive consideration for an NCAA Division II Southeast Regional bid. But the selection committee snubbed the Trojans and the postseason omission has given them additional ammunition to complete their unfinished business this spring.
MOC launches its 2013 season Saturday against Barton in the Swamp Fox Classic at Francis Marion (S.C.) University. The Trojans will play Wheeling Jesuit (W. Va.) University twice and the host Patriots once during the two-day event.
"Last year was heart-breaking," said Kylis, who guided MOC to its second 30-win campaign -- and fifth overall -- during the program's Division II era.
"You can't not be proud of the way they played. I saw fight, desire and at the end of the day, it just didn't go in our favor. To hear the cheers from the teams when we walked out of there because they knew that if anyone was going to walk into that tournament favored, it was us.
"I'm not upset with the fact we lost, but those cheers ... that's been my driving force."
The Trojans return three pitchers and six position players, including the entire infield. Sophomore shortstop Jennifer Jones, junior third baseman Kalie Smith and sophomore pitcher Lauren Smith each earned all-Conference Carolinas honors last season. Sophomore first baseman Beth Overman, senior catcher Rebekah McDaniel and junior second baseman Katie Moore complete the infield.
Jones batted .345 with 21 RBI -- tied for third-most among returning players. Kalie Smith logged a .914 fielding percentage with 47 assists after moving to the hot corner. Overman batted .280 and recorded a team-leading 28 walks, while McDaniel belted a pair of home runs. Moore hit .305 and Mitchell turned in a .960 fielding percentage.
Kylis considers her sophomores "key weapons" for this season. It's a group of players who come from either well-established high school programs that contend for state championships on a yearly basis or quality travel-ball teams.
"These kids have that big-game experience," Kylis said. "They know what it's like to win and they know what it's like to get your heart broken. They played behind an amazing senior class last year and got to know what senior leadership looks like.
"They've gotten better and the will to win in that particular group drives us."
Joining Lauren Smith in the circle are returners Carly White and Christie Wright, a second-year transfer from Chowan University who swatted five of the Trojans' 29 home runs in 2012. Smith ended up 16-6 with a 2.02 earned run average and 124 strikeouts in 128.3 innings of work.
White registered a 2.52 ERA and Wright won seven games in 101.7 innings of action. Opposing teams hit .281 against Mount Olive last season.
Kylis signed freshman Madison Johnston, a 5-foot-3 right-hander from Wilmington Laney to the pitching staff in the offseason.
"We have a gem in Maddie and extremely glad that we got her," Kylis said. "She can take a lot on her shoulders and I think she is really going to surprise some people. We have four girls who throw all of their pitches well and have good command of those pitches, which is what we've been working on in the offseason.
"We have four different styles. Carly is becoming more aggressive and emotional, which we've been waiting to see. She can make the ball cha-cha down the middle of the plate with the spin she uses. She's getting some confidence and with that comes more swag. When you're 6-foot-4, you've got to have swag."
The players have supported each other, avoided selfishness and created team chemistry during fall practice and spring workouts. The tight-knit group faces formidable challenges during the Swamp Fox Classic, which kicks off a 15-game road swing that lasts until late February.
The Trojans play 25 of their first 27 contests away from Nancy Chapman Cassell Field. Their home opener is Feb. 23 against in-state foe Mars Hill.
"We know we are challenged right out of the gate and we're going to prove that we belong in the (Southeast) region (elite) and that we don't need to win the (conference) tournament to show people that," Kylis said. "I love this group because they're light-hearted, they have fun and they laugh, but they get after it because they also know when it's time to work.
"They are driven, they're focused and they have the ability to stop and regroup if they're not. To not have to constantly manage that as a coach is nice."
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