Softball picked 5th in conference preseason ranking

Senior Bailey Nelson gets to ready to hit the ball against Lee March 11, 2017. The Lions start the season in Gulf Shores where they play six teams in three days to begin the season, but the home opener is Feb. 24.

The North Alabama softball team is picked to finish fifth in the Gulf South Conference preseason poll.

The GSC coaches tabbed the Lions fifth after UNA advanced to the finals of the Division II NCAA South 2 Regional and two years removed from a Division II softball national championship. The Lions got 126 total points in the poll.

Head coach Ashley Cozart said the ranking was a surprise, but it should make the team ready to play.

“Honestly, I thought we were picked a little low, but I also think our conference is more balanced this year,” Cozart said. “I don’t mind the ranking because this should light a fire in us and let people know we have something to prove. Nothing comes easy in the GSC, so we need to show everyone what we can do.”

Senior Bailey Nelson said finishing is more important than the early preseason rankings.

“In my opinion, it’s not where we start, it’s where we finish and our goal is to finish first,” Nelson said. “We are working extremely hard and getting better every single day, so I don’t think about the rankings often. We know the goal we have is very doable for us, and we’re willing to do whatever it takes to prove them wrong.”

UNA senior shortstop Reagan Tittle was UNA’s only selection in the preseason All-GSC team. Tittle has started every game in her first three seasons for the Lions softball team.

Tittle also batted an average of .297 with two home runs and 23 runs batted in for the Lions. She also stole 10 bases in 12 attempts last season.

UNA will return six starters and 14 other players to help with the 2018 season.

Most of the Lions starters and returning players will be underclassmen.

Junior Hannah Bodenhorn will be the primary pitcher for the Lions. Bodenhorn finished with a 6-3 record with a 2.1 earned run average while striking out 29 batters last season.

West Florida was selected as the GSC preseason champion after finishing as the runner-up in the Division II World Series last season. The Argonauts received 10 first place votes and totaled the GSC leading 162 points in the poll.

Second place finisher Valdosta State recorded 140 total points and one first place vote. Last season’s GSC champion, Mississippi College, got one first place vote and tied with UAH with 137 total points to finish third and fourth respectively.

Lee and Auburn-Montgomery received one first place vote apiece, but finished the preseason poll at sixth and seventh behind UNA.

West Georgia, Shorter and five other teams follow in the GSC preseason rankings.

UNA will start the season in Gulf Shores against North Georgia Feb. 2 in the Gulf Coast Invitational and plays at the UAH Charger Chillout.

The Lions will not return to UNA to play until a GSC series against West Florida Feb. 24-25.