SOFTBALL: Season looks promising

Wes Watt

Although Jack Frost might still have his nip in the air, he can’t stop the sound of pinging bats, the smell of fresh cut grass and small dust storms from twirling around the field.

He can’t stop the start of softball season.

After finishing last season with a disappointing 30-32 record with what coach Leslie Phelan called the best team in Western softball history, the Lady Toppers are looking for one thing – redemption.

The Lady Toppers open their season at 10 a.m. Friday against Villanova in Chattanooga, Tenn. in the Sonic Challenge. The season was delayed a week after the Sunshine State Classic in Tallahasse, Fla., was rained out last weekend.

The return of seven starters from last year’s squad will give Phelan’s team one of the most important assets any team can have – experience.

“This is the most experience we’ve had,” Phelan said. “We are definitely looking for that experience to lead the way.”

The experience will be anchored by fifth year senior outfielder Jessie Richardson. Richardson missed her seemingly breakout senior season last year because of a torn ligament in her right wrist. In 2002 she was selected second-team all-Sun Belt. Richardson has been on the team since the softball program started in 2000.

“If there is anybody with experience it’s definitely Jessie,” Phelan said. “And if anybody knows my system, it’s her.”

But when Richardson went down someone had to step in her place. There to take the leap into the starting position was then-sophomore Renita Pennington.

And she didn’t waste her opportunity.

Pennington made second team all-Sun Belt with a batting average of .374 and 27 stolen bases. Pennington earned a starting position in center field this season and wants to prove that last season was not a fluke.

“I hope to contribute as much as I did last year,” Pennington said. “I feel like we are going to have a heck of a year.”

Providing some offensive power for the Lady Toppers will be junior second baseman Shelly Floyd. After slugging her way to a .354 batting average and smacking 46 RBI, her effort earned her a spot on the National Fast Pitch Coaches Association all-South Region First Team.

Floyd did all this with a broken bone in her hand. She was hitting in nearly .500 when a cast was put on to protect the injury.

“She just had a break out year offensively,” Phelan said.

Senior Riley Garcia will be making the move to catcher after a two year stint in the outfield to fill a personnel vacancy.

“She’s been the best catcher in our conference all along,” Phelan said. “But she is versatile because she has made all conference all three of her years.”

Reach Wes Watt at [email protected]