Photo | University of Mobile
The University of Mobile Rams stand atop the SSAC Coaches’ Preseason Poll and are expected to defend their conference title.
Many local college softball teams are aiming for championships in 2019. The following is a review of these talented women.
• The University of Mobile (UM) is coming off a monumental campaign. After winning the Southern States Athletic Conference (SSAC) regular-season title, the Rams advanced to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics’ (NAIA) World Series for the 19th time.
Two tough losses kept UM from adding another national trophy. However, the team did finish with an outstanding 46-15 record and a No. 8 ranking in the final NAIA poll.
Their league rivals are expecting another great year. The Rams have been picked to defend their title as they stand atop the SSAC Coaches’ Preseason Poll.
“I’m extremely excited about this season,” said UM head coach Alison Sellers-Cook, who in her initial season at the helm was named SSAC Coach of the Year. “We bring back a lot of talent and leadership, as well as we have brought in a lot of new talent. This team’s chemistry is very strong and they are focused on one goal: winning a championship.”
Returning after gaining first-team all-conference recognition are catcher Ashley Sprayberry and outfielder Emily Fleetwood (seniors from Citronelle), senior infielder Maddie Burchell (SSAC Newcomer of the Year) and sophomore third baseman Payton Adams (Golden Glove winner).
On the second-team unit are outfielder Savannah Woodruff (junior from Saraland and Golden Glove winner), junior pitcher Hope Cain, junior outfielder Maegan Walding and sophomore outfielder Allison Vincent.
The Rams will be put to the test Feb. 23 when they host Georgia Gwinnett College, which was ranked No. 5 in the NAIA preseason poll.
• The University of South Alabama (USA) hopes to bounce back this season. The Jaguars finished 2018 with a 29-27 overall record while going 13-13 in the Sun Belt Conference (SBC). USA is picked to finish sixth in the SBC preseason poll.
Becky Clark, entering her 13th season as head coach, will be counting on four veterans who started at least 40 games. They are sophomore catcher Lyric Cabral, sophomore first baseman Kamdyn Kvistad and junior outfielders MC Nichols and Brittani Reid. Returning to the mound are senior Alexis Read and sophomore Megan Dudenhefer.
Other letter winners are outfielders Amanda Flynn, Dayla Gulledge and Megan Harris; infielders Katelyn Gruich, Abby Krzywiecki, Morgan Lutticken and Savanna Mayo; plus catcher Taylor Stevens (from Grand Bay).
USA will host 21 games, including two tournaments in the Jaguar Challenge (Feb. 15-16) and Mardi Gras Invitational (Feb. 22-24). A trip to defending national champion Florida State will be squeezed in Feb. 20.
“We love the challenge of playing a competitive schedule and understand that playing good teams makes you better as a club,” Clark said. “We lost several impact players to graduation, so it will be exciting to see which players step up and assume those roles. Competitive schedules and competitive games provide opportunities for those younger players to step up and challenge themselves. I look forward to a great year and seeing the growth of our team as a whole.”
• Spring Hill College (SHC) finally will be competing as a fully recognized member of NCAA Division II. During this transitional period, the Badgers were not allowed to earn postseason bids.
SHC would certainly have made the playoffs last year. The Badgers topped their division with an impressive 18-1 record in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC). They were 23-14 overall.
The Badgers return all-SIAC performers in sophomore second baseman Delaney Thomas (who led the team with a .400 batting average with 30 runs batted in) and junior outfielder Sarah Johnson (.297 batting average, 10 stolen bases). Thomas played at Baker High.
Joining them with all-conference honors is sophomore pitcher Hannah Brenton, who built a 15-7 record with a 2.89 ERA and 81 strikeouts over 123.1 innings pitched last season. She is a Mobile Christian School graduate.
Senior Tiffany Fairchild, juniors Aly Fowler, Baylie Doiron and Cassidy Mehr, plus sophomores Hannah Fillmore (of Brewton), Julia Waters, Caroline Hart, Brittany Hartung, Tiffany Hughes (of Gulf Shores) and Carlisle Jamison have all earned varsity letters.
Steve Kittrell is beginning his second season as the Badgers’ head coach. Last month he was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Kittrell coached baseball for 29 seasons, 28 of those at USA, and finished with a career record of 1,084-663-1. In 1983, he served as head baseball coach at SHC and led the Badgers to a 33-19 record.
Gulf Coast Challenge honored
In a previous review of the Mobile Sports Authority’s impact on the local economy, it was mentioned the inaugural Gulf Coast Challenge football game was a major contributor in 2018. Sports Destination Management, the leading publication of sports event planners and tournament directors in the sports tourism market, has also recognized the event. The game was listed in the group’s 2018 Champions of Economic Impact in Sports Tourism.
The inaugural Gulf Coast Challenge took place Sept. 22 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, with Alabama A&M hosting Southern University. The game was the culmination of a week full of events including concerts, a college and career fair, a golf tournament, a Battle of the Bands and a parade. The event contributed more than $6.6 million to the local economy.
“We want to thank Sports Destination Management for recognizing our first Gulf Coast Challenge event as a Champion of Economic Impact in Sports Tourism,” said Danny Corte, executive director of the Mobile Sports Authority (MSA). “This is truly an honor. By our account, this year’s Gulf Coast Challenge was the most economically impactful event ever hosted by the MSA. We are proud to share this prestigious award with our event partner/game-producers, GCB Entertainment.”
Tim Hale Jr., executive director of the Gulf Coast Challenge, said, “The Gulf Coast Challenge Committee is honored to receive such an outstanding award. Our goal was to make the Gulf Coast Challenge a signature event for the city and county of Mobile, bringing in people from all over the country to attend what we call Mobile’s Ultimate HBCU [Historically Black Colleges and Universities] Experience. With the partnership of the Mobile Sports Authority and the continued support of the community, I feel this is just the beginning of many successful years to come for the Gulf Coast Challenge.”
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