2012 Florida Southern Softball Preview
With 2011 now in the history books, the 2012 Florida Southern Moccasins begin their season under more pressure than any Moccasin team that’s ever come before them. Why? Well, the Mayans predicted the world would come to an end on December 21 (or the 23rd, depending on your interpretation), and if that’s not pressure, what is? It means this might be the Moccasins’ last chance – their very last chance – to add another trophy to a case that’s already overflowing.
Then again, since every other team in America is playing under the same type of doomsday deadline, and the Mocs already own quite a collection of hardware, there isn’t nearly as much pressure on them as there is on everyone else. That should actually make for a pretty relaxed season as far as the Mocs are concerned. Florida Southern also has a hall of fame coach in Chris Bellotto who’s successfully guided them through so many tough spots in the past, the end of the world just provides a different backdrop for a different season.
On that bright note, the Moccasins have the same goals in 2012 they’ve had in every other season; and to achieve those goals, they’ll need their senior class to play as well as they did as juniors in 2011; their junior college transfers to step in and play the roles they were brought in to play; and their sophomores to put together the type of complete season all of them showed they were capable of having at different points during their rookie campaigns. The Moccasins will also need at least some of their freshmen to contribute right away if they’re going to overtake the three teams that finished ahead of them last year in the conference standings and went on to play in the NCAA Tournament.
One thing Florida Southern hopes to avoid is a repeat of last year’s pitching situation when injuries and inexperience really limited what Bellotto could do at times, and forced Christine Clark to shoulder a much larger portion of the load than anyone wanted to see her carry. Over the final 29 games, Clark had every one of Florida Southern’s 16 wins, and over the course of the season, she had 22 of 25. That ratio has to come down for the Mocs to get back to the postseason, where they last appeared in 2009 with Clark as one of their starting pitchers.
Now a senior, and a 2-time All-Sunshine State Conference selection, Clark has won 46 games in her career with a 1.94 ERA, including a 22-12 record last year when she led the SSC in appearances and was second in wins. While she’s not known as a strikeout pitcher, neither does she give anything away, averaging less than a walk per game throughout her career, and throwing only three wild pitches in over 200 innings as a junior. With Clark, the Mocs know what they’re going to get every time out, and that type of comfort level is what they’re now looking for from the rest of their pitching staff.
Another member of that staff is sophomore Liana Derringer, who burst on the scene with a shutout in her first college start after shutting down teams like Flagler and Rollins in relief outings early in the season. She had a 3-2 record with a 0.72 ERA at the halfway point of the season before walks took their toll. It’s the strong start though, along with the .237 opponents’ batting average that proves Derringer has what it takes to win at the college level, and the Mocs are counting on her to do that from start to finish this year.
Lindsay LaChance is another sophomore who got a taste of the college game last year. Though she appeared in only two games, LaChance has now had the opportunity to work on her pitching year-round after a high school career in Maine that saw her excel in multiple sports.
Two freshmen have been added to the pitching staff too, and both will be given the chance to become regular members of the rotation. Sam Gale was a 4-year starter for St. Cloud High School where she put together a career record of 56-25 with a 1.29 ERA, and 604 strikeouts in nearly 500 innings. She also hit at, or very close to .500 as a junior and senior, and could help the Mocs out with her bat as well. Lauren Wolfe was an All-State selection as a senior at Durant High School and also averaged well over a strikeout per inning in her prep career. While compiling a 30-17 record, Wolfe saw opposing batters hit just .170 against her.
Something else the Moccasins don’t want to see repeat itself are the defensive miscues that hurt them in a number of games in 2011. Their 73 errors were a team record and led to well over an extra run per game. Bellotto hopes some shuffling in the infield and outfield will erase a lot of those errors, and take some pressure off both the pitching staff and the offense.
One of those position changes involves senior Brittany Martin, who lit up opposing pitchers with a .417 batting average, seven home runs and 33 RBI in her first season with the Moccasins. She was a first team all-conference first baseman but is moving back across the diamond to third base where she was the region defensive player-of-the-year at Iowa Central Community College in 2010. It’s Martin’s bat, however, that’s been the biggest difference maker, whether it’s been at Florida Southern or at Iowa Central where she was a 2-time All-American. She’ll once again hit in the middle of the lineup where she can do the most damage.
With Martin now at third, first base could be manned by as many as three different players. A lot of that might depend on who is pitching since Christine Clark is one of them. A .301 career hitter, her bat was partially responsible for earning her all-conference honors two years ago as a utility player. She helped stabilize the middle of the lineup and could do the same as a pitcher or first baseman this year too.
Senior Randi Grimes will see time at first base too, and though she played there only sparingly in 2011, she was a First Team All-SSC selection as a designated player with a .325 batting average and 28 RBI in 40 games. Grimes will once again hit somewhere in the middle of the lineup where she found a home after coming off the bench early in 2011.
Junior college transfer Heather Brinkmeier gives Florida Southern a third option at first base and is the type of hitter who could also provide some extra power. She hit 13 doubles and eight home runs as a sophomore at Lurleen B. Wallace Community College in Alabama, and had 14 home runs in her JC career.
Senior Steph Graziani split time between second base and left field last season, but is expected to be a full-time infielder this season. She’ll be Florida Southern’s leadoff hitter again too, after she finished fourth in the SSC with a .452 on-base percentage. She hit .370 with six doubles, two triples and 10 RBI, and was second in the SSC with 23 stolen bases. Most of those steals came in the second half of the season, when she established herself as the league’s best leadoff hitter.
At shortstop, sophomore Christie Bailey has the job to herself this year after sharing it last season when she started 24 games. She really settled into the position late in the season, making just one error in her last 11 starts, and it’s that kind of steady play the Mocs are looking for in 2012.
The middle infield also includes freshman Marty Wilcox, a 4-time First Team All-State shortstop in West Virginia while playing for Charleston Catholic High School. Wilcox had a career batting average of .531, hit 18 home runs and stole 67 bases, and she’s not just limited to one position. The Mocs could also use her at second base or in the outfield where she played for her travel ball team in Florida. Sam Gale is another possible middle infielder if she’s not pitching, and gives the Moccasins even more depth behind Bailey.
The Moccasins will be breaking in a new catcher this spring in junior Devin Mathews, a mid-year transfer who hit .352 with five home runs and 29 RBI during a 50-game junior college career. An all-conference pick for Chipola College in 2011, Mathews will give the Moccasins another power threat they didn’t have last year.
If Mathews isn’t behind the plate, the Moccasins have several other players who’ve also been catchers at different points in their careers. Gale is one of those, and handled the position very well when she hit over .500 during her final three seasons at St. Cloud High School. Grimes has also caught for both Florida Southern in 2011, and Manatee Community College for two years prior to that.
In the outfield, Florida Southern has two returning starters, but both of them will probably be moving into new positions. Sophomore Khaliah Brown won the job in right field last year as a walk-on, but is expected to move over to left. That means senior Karlyn Scott, who took over as the left fielder in early March, is expected to move into center.
Scott proved to be a big addition to the lineup, hitting .257 with 15 RBI and 13 steals. She started the final 36 games as the #2 hitter in the lineup, and filled that role to perfection. Whether it was a bunt, a ground ball to move a runner over, a key hit or a stolen base, Scott did it all. She’ll be asked to do the same type of things again this year.
Brown seemingly came out of nowhere and was hitting over .300 for most of the season before a rough three-week stretch at the end of the year dropped her to .256. Much like Derringer in the pitcher’s circle, Brown’s first half numbers showed what she’s capable of doing, and her .313 batting average against NCAA playoff teams was even more evidence.
Freshman Dayna Hunn, a 2-time All-State selection at Williston High School near Gainesville, is looking to nail down the right field position after leading the Red Devils to three straight district titles and a spot in Florida’s 3A state semifinals as a junior. Hunn is capable of playing a multitude of positions, including catcher and third base. Her biggest season came in 2010, when she hit .464 with seven homers and 32 RBI.
In addition to Scott and Brown, two other outfielders also return for the Mocs, but neither has seen a tremendous amount of playing time in the field. Senior Brandy Pikus has, however, seen a lot of playing time in other spots, most notably as the Moccasins’ top pinch-runner over the last three seasons. In that role, Pikus has been placed in her share of pressure points, and with 74 games under her belt, she’s an experienced player the Mocs can use in different situations. Sophomore Kianna Murphy may not have the experience yet that Pikus has, but she has a big bat and should benefit from a full year of practice that she didn’t have as a freshman.
Freshman Cassie Haynes joins the Moccasins from Allen Park High School in Michigan where she helped the Jaguars win three district titles and one region title just as Hunn did for her high school team in Florida. A 2-time all-region honoree, Haynes hit .404 as a senior, and though she came to Florida Southern as an outfielder, she may also see time at third base behind Martin.
Sophomore Allasyn Lieneck is a transfer who may be a newcomer for the Moccasins, but she’s already had one big year as a college softball player. Lieneck was the leading hitter for Nichols College, a Division III school in Massachusetts, as a freshman, and was also an all-conference outfielder for the Bison. After hitting .376 with 20 steals, she’s returned to her native Florida and landed a spot on Florida Southern’s roster, and Bellotto hopes she’ll play as well for the Mocs as she did for Nichols.
When the Moccasins take the field on February 10 for their first game of the season, they’ll do so knowing they were picked to finish fourth in the Sunshine State Conference this year. That brings us back to the Mayans and their own debatable predictions for 2012. If they were so good at seeing into the future, how is it they never quite figured out what the Conquistadors were up to, or even saw them coming in the first place? Maybe if they’d paid a little more attention to the here-and-now, things would have played out differently. There might be a lesson there too for anyone else predicting what might happen in 2012.
Whether the Mayans were right or wrong about the end of the world will have to wait a little while longer, but the Moccasins’ own future will be decided much earlier. That means the predictions made in January won’t mean anything in May, when they hope to have at least one more trophy to clutch, just in case the Mayans are right.