This weekend the Middle Tennessee softball team opened the 2012 season in Charlotte, N.C., as they look to improve on last season’s eighth place finish in the Sun Belt.
Senior catcher Natalie Ysais (23) steps up to the plate at a game during the 2011 season. Ysais posted a .246 season average with 30 hits and 18 RBIs last season. (Photo by B. Lambert)
In the recently released SBC preseason rankings, the coaches picked the Blue Raiders to finish dead last. In the meantime, the players and coaches want to start the season off on the right track.
At the Charlotte Classic, which started Friday, the Blue Raiders opened up with an early morning 7-3 loss to Big 12 rival Kansas, and later in the day against Stony Brook. The following day they faced the host school Charlotte and another game against an opponent yet to be named. Depending on how they fared in the tournament, MTSU also had another game on Sunday.
During the non-conference portion of the schedule, the Blue Raiders will play in a total of four tournaments, which include stops in Charlotte, Charleston, S.C., Knoxville and Nashville against squads from several different conferences. Some of those top opponents include ACC member, Virginia Tech, Big East school, Louisville, and SEC rival Tennessee.
“We have the opportunity to play some quality teams from good conferences that we normally do not play,” MTSU head coach Sue Nevar said in a November press release, when the 2012 schedule was announced. “It is also very exciting as we are heading to some new places for the first time.”
Nevar did not return calls by the Murfreesboro Post this week seeking comment about the upcoming season.
MTSU’s first home game of the season will be a doubleheader against Eastern Illinois on March 14. Three days later, the Blue Raiders open conference play at North Texas. The players think the non-conference schedule will help them prepare for league play.
“Playing tough competition in the beginning of the season is very good for us,” Senior-returning pitcher Caty Jutson said in an email interview with the Post this week. “It helps us set the bar high on not only what we expect from the competition but what we expect from our ourselves.”
Jutson was first on the team in ERA last season against SBC opponents with a 4.30. She is one of three pitchers returning to the team this season.
The 2011 mark for the Blue Raiders was 18-33, including 8-16 inside the SBC. Also, 14 of those wins came at the campus field, the Women’s Softball Complex. So far, during preseason practice, the team has been pleased with the progress heading into the first game.
“Preseason practices and workouts have been challenging but going very well,” Jutson said. “I have seen everyone get both physically and mentally stronger. This has also transferred to practices. Our defense is going to be our staple this year. Some practices I honestly walk away thinking, how they catch that? Or did you see that awesome play? The pitching staff is also ready. We have been put through tough workouts that have simulated our toughest competition. I feel as that when we step on the field against Kansas all the pieces (defense, offense and pitching) will come together.”
Five returning starters and six newcomers will also make up this year’s team as it tries to improve its SBC standing against tough competition.
“The SBC has some tough contenders and I think that if we do what were capable of and put what we’ve done over the fall into action, we will be fine and have a great season,” Senior returning catcher Natalie Ysais said in an email interview this week. She finished last season batting .240 with eight doubles and 18 RBIs in all games.
As in the past few seasons, the SBC has been dominated by the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns, and this year it is once again picked as the favorites in the league. The Blue Raiders host the four-time defending SBC champions on April 14 and 15.
Next weekend, the Blue Raiders head to the College of Charleston Cougar Classic. MTSU will face the host, CC, Wagner, Lipscomb and Virginia Tech during the weekend of Feb. 24-26.