Softball team aims to build off last year’s sucessful season

Senior outfielder Ashley Bonner looks a fly ball into her glove during practice Jan. 20. The Lions finished third in the Gulf South Conference in 2014 with a 38-19 (19-11) record. GSC coaches picked UNA to finish fourth in the conference this year. The season opener is Feb. 2 against Truett McConnell College at home.

The softball team is ready for a brand new season. The Lions are coming off a 2014 season in which the ladies finished third in the Gulf South Conference with a 38-18 (19-11) record.

Last season, the Lions finished in the top three in batting average, runs scored, RBIs and home runs.

UNA also finished with the best ERA in the conference at 2.49 and finished in the top three in wins and strikeouts.

This season the Lions look to continue their recent success, while breaking in 14 newcomers to the program. The newcomers include five freshmen and nine transfers.

“Since the start of offseason I think our team has improved the most on setting aside our differences and coming together as one,” said sophomore outfielder Amy Carden. “This year I can really see the returners reach out to the new faces and try to make UNA feel like home.”

Communication is key as the returners and new players start to create chemistry.

“We have a lot of returners this year but also have a lot of new kids,” said head coach Ashley Cozart. “If we’re meshing well and we’re talking everything’s great. But we do have to communicate a lot.”

Cozart hopes the recently acquired players will help in areas the Lions struggled in last season.

“We’re a lot deeper this year,” Cozart said. “Last year we only had a two-person rotation and didn’t have a three or four to plug in for that third game or to throw (the opponent) off balance.”

Freshman pitcher Ashton Edwards is a newcomer that could make an immediate impact on the mound and with the bat, Cozart said.

“(Edwards) will be a big impact for us. She’s been doing really well in practice,” she said. “I definitely look for her to be in our pitching rotation and possibly at (designated hitter).”

Freshman utility player Reagan Tittle could also be a player to keep an eye on.

“(Tittle) is probably going to be playing on the left side of the field for us a lot. Shortstop or third base, she can play either one,” Cozart said. “She really stood out in the fall and hit the ball really well. She could be a big time player.”

Cozart said she believes the depth will create competition between the players.

“I think (the depth) is going to create some competition between our girls. Last year you kind of knew who the starting nine would be,” Cozart said. “This year there’s going to be a lot more fight and a lot more competition, and that’s going to make us better in general.”

Freshman pitcher Tori Davis said that competition is always good at every position.

“Players are motivated to be more aggressive and play harder because they know that their position is on the line,” she said. “Competition never goes away.”

The Lions have yet to solidify a starting lineup, so platooning both offensively and defensively will be important early on in the season.

“Some players do better against certain teams and certain pitchers. Some games we may need our best defensive players out there. Some games we may need our best hitting attack,” Cozart said. “It really just depends on who we’re playing and what the situation is, but it’s always good to have that depth.”

The Lions were picked to finish fourth in the preseason GSC coaches’ poll, but this team has its sights set for higher goals.

Sophomore pitcher Hillary Carpenter and senior utility player Libby Olinger made the All-GSC preseason team.

“I have faith in this team that we can prove them wrong,” Davis said. “Everybody’s goal is to be the one holding the trophy at the end of the season, but I can see this year’s team reaching that goal.”

The Lions will open at home with a doubleheader against Truett McConnell College Feb. 2.