Mobile County has always fielded some of the best college softball teams in the nation. The 2018 season looks no different, as the University of Mobile, Spring Hill College and the University of South Alabama take aim at more honors.
University of Mobile
The Rams are coming off an impressive campaign, during which they were 40-19 overall and 18-8 in the Southern States Athletic Conference (SSAC), and advanced to the NAIA national tournament. More success appears in the cards, as UM is picked second in the conference’s preseason poll.
At the helm this year is head coach Alison Sellers-Cook, who has moved over from leading the Spring Hill program. At SHC, she produced an overall record of 329-263, including the 2013 season, in which she led the Badgers to a 49-17 mark and finished as national runner-up.
Sellers-Cook has extremely high hopes for her new squad.
“We have 13 returning players and a good many freshmen coming in, and I brought five players with me [from Spring Hill], so we have a lot of talent,’’ she said. “I have very high expectations for this bunch. I know they did extremely well last year, and with who they have coming back, who is coming in and who have come with me, I think it’s just going to really mesh together and it’s going to be a fun ride.”
Sellers-Cook said she has great leadership from center fielder Tyler Winkler and infielder Victoria Lewis, who was an all-SSAC player last year along with catcher Ashley Sprayberry and outfielder Emily Fleetwood.
On the mound, sophomore Hope Cain returns along with seniors Sydney O’Connor (both second-team all-SSAC) and Karley Sanders. Danielle Clark, a Spring Hill transfer, was all-conference in both her freshman and sophomore years.
Other key players who have all-league experience are Maddie Burchell and Savannah Woodruff. Payton Adams is expected to contribute after missing her freshman year because of an injury. Maegan Walding is another returnee.
The Rams opened play last weekend in the Gulf Shores Invitational. Their first home action is Feb. 24 against Stillman.
Spring Hill College
The SHC softball program enters a new era as former University of South Alabama baseball head coach Steve Kittrell takes the reins as the head coach.
“We’re a fairly young team,” he says. “So we’re going to have to experiment with our lineup in the early parts of the season by getting a lot of people in the game and in a lot of different positions. With that said, the players all have great attitudes, work ethics and character.”
Kittrell admits that his infield has suffered some early injuries and may not be the lineup he originally penciled into position. Freshman Caroline Hart will be at third base while freshman Hannah Fillmore will take care of shortstop. Freshman Brittany Hartung will see playing time on the left side of the infield, while sophomore outfielder Sarah Johnson might also serve on the infield as the season progresses.
Freshman Delaney Thomas out of Baker High will handle second base, but Kittrell expects to have her play shortstop if needed. Senior Randi DeArmitt is scheduled at first base, but freshman Hannah Brenton from Mobile Christian will share time in the role. Behind the plate, junior Aly Fowler moves into the starting job, but Kittrell says sophomore Cassidy Mehr will share the duties.
Badger pitching will feature depth this season with Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference All-Conference relief pitcher sophomore Baylie Doiron (6-3 record, 2.32 ERA) moving into the starting slot backed up by Brenton. Sophomore Julia Waters and freshman Tiffany Hughes of Gulf Shores will also see time in the circle.
Johnson will open in left field and senior Brooke Vosloh moves into center. Right field will be patrolled by freshmen Carlisle Jamison and Kelsie Authement. Junior Tiffany Fairchild is available to play many positions.
Spring Hill closed out the 2017 campaign with a 33-16 overall mark and 17-2 Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association record. As the sports program is still in the transition phase to NCAA Division II, the Badgers were not eligible for postseason play.
Spring Hill opened play last week in the Gulf Shores tournament. The first home action is Feb. 17 against Kentucky State.
University of South Alabama
No one can accuse the Jaguars softball team of playing a soft schedule. The squad is slated to face 15 teams that reached national postseason play a year ago.
“I feel like we’ve put together a challenging schedule and look forward to the opportunity to compete against some of the best teams in the nation,” head coach Becky Clark said. “Every year we strive to play the best schedule possible and I think we have done that again this year. I look forward to it and anticipate great things from our team in the spring.”
With a roster that features 10 newcomers and 13 underclassmen, the early portion of the schedule will test the Jaguars as 19 of their first 22 games are away from Jaguar Field.
The campaign gets underway Thursday as South hosts Alabama in a game that is already sold out. The Crimson Tide made its 19th straight NCAA tournament appearance last season and is the only program to appear in every Super Regional since its introduction in 2005.
The Jaguars went 35-20 last season, including a 15-12 mark in the Sun Belt Conference. Three returning players — pitcher Devin Brown, infielder Kaleigh Todd and outfielder MC Nichols — represented the state over the summer against the U.S. Women’s National Team last summer helped. “Playing against the USA team was a great experience for all three and I am sure something they will always remember,” Clark said.
Other returning veterans are Kristian Foster, Megan Harris and Savanna Mayo. Following a short campaign in the fall, Clark highlighted the play of Katelyn Gruich and Abby Krzywiecki. Of the 10 newcomers joining the roster, expected to contribute early are Alexis Reid, Brittani Reid, Kamdyn Kvistad, Hannah Smith, Amanda Flynn and Carmen Byrd.
“This group is focused and shares a common purpose,” Clark said. “You can always tell when a team wants to be good or wants to talk about being good. So far they have been doing the little things that good teams do.”