South Atlantic Conference Softball Will See A Battle At The Top
South Atlantic Conference Softball Will See A Battle At The Top
In most conferences, one team enters the season as the odds-on favorite to win the league title, but in 2023, the SAC is shaping up to buck that trend.
In most conferences, one team enters the season as the odds-on favorite to win the league’s regular-season title, but in 2023, the South Atlantic League is shaping up to buck that trend on the softball diamond, with four teams tightly bunched at the top, according to the league’s coaches.
Three schools received votes in the conference’s preseason softball poll to finish as the league champion, while a fourth team finished just 21 points behind the top choice.
With so much depth in the league, returning star power could be the difference this season in a league that saw a whopping five teams qualify for the Division II postseason last year.
Here’s a look at each of the SAC’s 13 teams, presented in order of predicted finish in the poll that included the conference’s head softball coaches.
Of the three teams in the league to receive first-places votes in the preseason poll, the Spartans topped the list with seven of the 13, and with good reason.
Last season’s team finished 40-10, and Anderson returns four players selected to the preseason All-SAC first team.
Kayson Boatner leads those returners after a massive season at the plate that included a .445 average, 23 home runs and 66 RBIs, while infielders Hannah Whitaker and Maddie Carpenter are back, too, after combining for 15 home runs and 70 RBIs, giving the team one of the strongest lineups in the league.
In the circle, Laken Maxwell will be leaned on as the ace this year, after splitting starts last season.
She was 21-6 last year with a 1.87 ERA, fanning 248 batters in 168 innings.
A deep lineup and a strong starting pitcher is a good place to be, and that’s the reason the Spartans are the favorites in the league.
The Railsplitters made it the farthest of any SAC team last season, reaching the Super Regional round, where they came within a game of reaching the World Series.
LMU received three first-place votes in the preseason poll and returns a trio of preseason all-conference picks, headlined by outfielder Madison Henry.
📰@LMU_Softball Second in SAC Preseason Poll; Four Named All-Conference#GoSplitters #SharpenYourAxehttps://t.co/DfQN4Q4xsr— LMU Softball (@LMU_Softball) January 25, 2023
Henry hit .314 last season in 39 starts and seems poised for a breakout season. She collected 13 extra-base hits last year.
Other notables to watch for the Splitters include second-team picks Sierra Hucklebee, who paced the team in batting average and home runs last season, along with pitcher Emma Frost, a 24-game winner last season.
The Bears also received three first-place votes in the preseason poll and saw five players named to the All-SAC teams, headlined by a pair of pitchers who should keep them in every game.
Lauren Rakes and Morgan Beeler give the Bears the best 1-2 pitching duo in the league, with Rakes winning 21 games last year and already posting a no-hitter early in the 2023 season.
At the plate, Cassidy Wall and Julia Mardigian were first-team selections, after each hit .335 last season, combining for 14 home runs and a whopping 90 RBIs.
With depth in the lineup and in the circle, the Bears will be favorites in the league and to get back into the Division II Tournament later in the season.
While the Bulldogs didn’t receive any first-place votes, they were just six and seven points back of the second- and third-ranked teams in the league, showing that opposing coaches again think they’ll be a tough task, after making the field of 64 last year.
Wingate is led by a pair of first-team picks in Heaven Maness and Sydney Kale, the two top hitters from last season’s team that won 37 games.
Kale flirted with .400, finishing at .392 as the team’s best hitter for average, but it was Maness who was the big problem at the plate, leading the team in RBIs and hits and finishing second in stolen bases with 21, making her a triple threat.
Kale also won 10 games in the circle, striking out more than a batter per game.
Raechel Cutcher is the top returning pitcher. She was 12-0 last season, with a 2.82 ERA in just under 100 innings of work.
The final SAC team to make the tournament last year, the Eagles won 35 games and again should have one of the deepest lineups in the league. They hit .357 as a team last year.
LETS. GO. DANCING. @cnsball is off to Hickory for the NCAA Softball Regional.— Carson-Newman Athletics (@CN_Eagles) May 9, 2022
Eagles are postseason bound for a 20th time in school history. It's their 16th appearance in an NCAA regional pic.twitter.com/3Y4KORGZPV
Macey Hughes returns after 14 home runs and 64 RBIs last season. She, along with SieAnna Cameron and Mary Vandergriff, give the team three returners who hit well over .300 last season.
The question for the Eagles will be in the circle, where more than seven runs per game helped lift the team, despite three of the team’s four pitchers posting ERAs of 3.50 or higher last season.
Syerra Rogers won nine games last season and will step into the ace role.
The Wolves were a near-miss last season when it came to the NCAA Tournament, while winning 33 games, thanks to an offense that hit .341 and swiped 68 bags.
Catcher Mackenzie Turner is the top returner, having tied for the team lead with nine home runs a season ago, while Mallena Wright is back after pacing the team with a .427 average and team-best 26 steals.
That duo, along with infielders Sierra Brogdan and Tori Rose, gives the team four preseason all-league picks to build around.
The Wolves also return three pitchers who won seven or more games last season, including Kasey Widmyer, whose 2.39 ERA led the staff.
With as many returners as the Wolves have, Newberry could be a sleeper pick in the league this season.
Despite strong pitching last season, it was the offense that held the Pioneers back from finishing better than 13-11 in the league and 27-21 overall.
While the team’s .292 average wasn’t bad, a lack of extra-base power (only 17 home runs last season) often prevented them from putting up big innings.
Kallyn Newpoert and Emily Sappington both return following solid seasons at the plate in terms of average, while catcher Chloe Freischmidt is the top returning power bat. She had 17 extra-base hits and 29 RBIs last year.
2-run single by Chloe Freischmidt as @TusculumSB leads 2-1 in the bottom of the 1st in game one vs North Greenville #PioneerUP pic.twitter.com/JrkSS0iISA— Tusculum Pioneers (@TusculumSports) February 16, 2022
Sappington also will be counted on heavily in the circle after going a hard-luck 11-12 last season despite a 2.18 ERA and fanning more than a batter an inning.
The Saints are another team in the SAC looking to make the jump into the contender ranks after winning 30 games last season. The squad returns a trio of preseason All-SAC picks.
Katie Wilbur returns after hitting .382 last season to lead the team, along with a team-best 49 RBIs, while Carly Womack should see her role increase this season. She hit .344 in limited duty a season ago.
The Saints also get a boost in the return of Caroline Ruth, who as the No. 2 pitcher last season. She was 9-4 with a 2.33 ERA.
With the departure of Haley White, a 16-game winner, Ruth should see the bulk of the starts, and that could help the Saints push for a spot among the top-half of the league.
Coker struggled in league play last season, going just 7-17, with pitching being the main culprit behind those numbers.
Despite hitting .298 as a team and averaging nearly five runs per game, opponents hit .302 off them last season and scored over six runs per game.
Chloe Pelham is the big bat for the Cobras, hitting .396 last season. She led the team in runs scored and finished second in steals.
Friday Feels… pic.twitter.com/Igj5ubQ3Iy— Coker Softball (@cokersball) September 24, 2022
Ariana Fair, who hit .314 last season and stole 13 bases also is back, as is Kayla Oswell, who belted nine home runs and was second on the team in RBIs.
That trio gives the Cobras a strong lineup to build around, but the question is pitching, with two returners who both posted ERAs over 5.50 last season.
Emory & Henry
After a 26-17 season as an independent, the Wasps make the jump to the SAC, where they’ll face a big step up in competition this season.
The Wasps did face a handful of SAC opponents last season, sweeping Mars Hill and UVA Wise, but getting swept by Lincoln Memorial and Lenoir-Rhyne.
Lydia Taylor is the hitter to fear for Emory & Henry. She hit .417 last season with 15 home runs and 54 RBIs, by far the best on the team in each category.
Top starter Avery Adkins also is back, following a 15-7 mark with a 3.24 ERA last season.
The Wasps may be new to the SAC, but there are pieces in place to assure they won’t be an easy game for any opponent.
The Cavaliers finished at .500 last year, but they were 10-14 in the league.
They enter 2023 looking for improvement at the plate and in the circle.
Sarah Barrett was the team’s lone all-league pick in the preseason. She hit .325 last season and topped the team in home runs and RBIs, but those totals were just seven and 25, showing the lack of depth the team had.
Congratulations to @UVAWiseSB's McKenna Falwell on becoming the fifth player in program history to reach 250 career strikeouts!#GoCavsGo l #IgnitedWeStand pic.twitter.com/yqSfGyJmFL— UVA Wise Athletics (@UVAWiseCavs) March 22, 2022
McKenna Falwell won 10 games last season but posted a 5.67 ERA, which was best on the team among three pitchers who combined for an ERA just over 7.00 last year.
Last year was a rough year for the Lions, who went 6-32 overall and just 3-21 in conference play.
The team struggled at the plate with a .242 average, while scoring less than four runs per game, and the Lions were hammered in the circle, seeing three pitchers combine for an ERA over 8.00.
Farley Park is the star for the Lions, a preseason first-team pick after hitting .327 last year with a team-best 21 RBIs.
After her, the team’s three other top hitters from last season, who combined for 19 of the team’s 31 home runs, all departed.
After winning just five game last year, including one in league play, and ending the year by dropping 27 of their final 28 games, there’s nowhere to go but up for Catawba.
The biggest struggle came at the plate, where even with a solid .270 average as a team, Catawba struggled to score runs, averaging just over three per game, despite 28 home runs.
Kary Hales is back after hitting .384 with four home runs and 23 RBIs, as is Courtnee Carter, who hit eight home runs as a freshman.
If there’s good news for Catawba, it’s that of their top 8 hitters last season in terms of plate appearances were freshmen or sophomores, and four of them return.
- SAC Announces 2023 Softball All-Tournament Team And MVP
May 9, 2023
- Lincoln Memorial Wins SAC Softball Championship At Wingate
May 5, 2023
- Replay: Lincoln Memorial vs Wingate | May 4 @ 3 PM
May 4, 2023
- Replay: Lincoln Memorial vs Wingate | May 4 @ 12 PM
May 4, 2023
- Replay: Lincoln Memorial vs Wingate | May 3 @ 1 PM
May 3, 2023
- Lincoln Memorial, Wingate Clash For 2023 SAC Softball Championship
May 2, 2023
- Replay: Bluefield State vs Emory & Henry | Apr 30 @ 1 PM
Apr 30, 2023
- Replay: SAC Opening Rd at Wingate | Apr 29 @ 1 PM
Apr 29, 2023
- Replay: SAC Opening Rd at Lenior-Rhyne | Apr 29 @ 12 PM
Apr 29, 2023