Softball

2011 Florida Southern Softball Preview

Florida SouthernFlorida Southern's 2011 senior class.

When the Florida Southern softball program began 30 years ago, no one quite knew what to expect, or just how far it would go; and though looking back in hindsight, it may have seemed obvious what would happen, Moccasin head coach Chris Bellotto knows that it’s never that easy. There are a lot of similarities between that first team in 1982, and the one that will take the field in 2011. Although this team will have the benefit of 11 returning players, there will be enough newcomers in key positions to create a sense of heightened expectation.

Of course, the start of every new season brings that feeling to one degree or another, but this year’s team has enough experience to also know just what they’re capable of doing. Playing for a team like Florida Southern, they’re also aware of what it takes to actually get it done. Of their eight returning starters, six were vital components of the 2009 SSC championship team, and five of them are seniors who’ve already seen all the ups, downs and in-betweens that a college softball season can bring. When three junior college transfers are added to that group of veteran players, it’s easy to see why the Moccasins believe they have both the experience and the youthfulness needed to make a run at another conference title.

How all the pieces fit together may not be determined until after the season starts, but there are a lot of players who can fill different roles, giving Bellotto even more flexibility when filling out the lineup card. There are three pitchers who regularly play other positions, two catchers who can play the corner infield spots, infielders who can play the outfield, outfielders who can play the infield, and even a couple of players who could end up just about anywhere.

One of those is junior Christine Clark, the team MVP in 2010, who started 18 games as a pitcher, 12 in centerfield, nine at first base and four strictly as the designated player. She went from being simply an all-conference pitcher as a freshman, to a complete all-conference softball player, earning All-SSC honors in 2010 as perhaps the league’s ultimate utility player. Over the last two seasons, Clark has won 24 games with a 1.97 ERA, and last year hit .333 with three home runs and 20 RBI. Her bat in the middle of the lineup gave Florida Southern a huge boost the second half of the season, and as long as she can balance her hitting with her pitching, she’ll be asked to do the same this year, no matter where she might be in the field.

Clark gives Florida Southern one returning All-SSC pitcher, but in reality, Morgan Brown has pitched at that level for much of her career, and the way she ended 2010 was certainly worthy of that honor. The senior has finished third in the SSC in earned run average each of the last two years, and put together a 17-4 record during that span. Brown made six of her 10 starts last year in April, and got stronger as the year wore on. Her 10-inning win at Palm Beach Atlantic and 12 scoreless innings in the season-ending doubleheader against Tampa were two of the season’s highlights, and the Mocs are looking for that type of work again in 2011.

Redshirt sophomore Lindsey McClellan was brought along slowly last year after more than a year away from the game, but Bellotto indicated she’s light-years from where she was at the start of last year. She pitched in only two games last year, combining with Brown on a no-hitter in one of them, and is anxious to take on a much larger role this year. In the long run, McClellan could also bridge the gap between Florida Southern’s more experienced pitchers, and the two freshmen they added this year.

One of those freshmen is Liana Derringer, out of Riverdale High School in Fort Myers. A 3-time All-State selection, she went 53-15 with a 0.86 ERA in her prep career, and helped the Raiders win three district titles. That’s not all she did, however. While also hitting near the top of the lineup, Derringer had a .403 career batting average with 89 RBI, showing her ability to swing the bat too. That gives her a chance to hit for the Moccasins if she’s not pitching, and Derringer can also play first base or the outfield.

Lindsay LaChance gives the Mocs another freshman who can pitch and play the field, and like Derringer, will have to get used to a different approach at the college level. Playing her high school softball in Maine, LaChance may not have had the year-round opportunities Florida has to offer, but she’s more than made up for it with her overall athletic ability and her hard work since arriving at Florida Southern. She’s a 4-sport athlete and a 4-time all-conference selection in softball, making it both as a pitcher and first baseman.

All of the pitchers will have the benefit of working with senior catcher Heather Raulerson, who Bellotto praised for her leadership and toughness. Raulerson has long been known for her defensive skills, and the numbers bear that out, but last year she also emerged as a much bigger threat at the plate. She hit .266 overall, and hidden within that number was a .341 batting average against teams that qualified for the NCAA Tournament. That came on the heels of a .500 average in the 2009 South Region Tournament, showing that Raulerson has always been at her best, against the best.

Just as they were last year, all of Florida Southern’s catchers could be on the field at the same time – obviously in different positions, since that would otherwise be illegal. Nevertheless, there aren’t many teams with three starting caliber catchers, and the Mocs now have three who have started at the college level. Junior Randi Grimes is one of them, though she also plays first base and may end up at that position after an outstanding career at the State College of Florida (formerly Manatee Community College). In her time there, Grimes was twice named First Team All-Suncoast Conference where she hit .320 with 55 RBI over the last two years.

Sophomore Erin Foley is another of those do-everything type players whose only question mark is what glove she should use. Last year saw Foley play third base, catcher, and two different outfield positions, but it was third base where she really put on a show. Taking over at the hot corner full-time halfway through the season, Foley was spectacular in the field, and there may not have been a better third baseman in the SSC during that time. At the plate, Foley also took off during the second half of the season, and finished with a .309 batting average and a team-high 28 RBI. Where she plays might change, but she’ll be in the lineup somewhere.

Added to the mix of potential corner infielders is junior Brittany Martin, a 2-time Junior College All-American at Iowa Central Community College. Martin figures to be hitting somewhere in the middle of the lineup after putting up frightening numbers at Iowa Central, a team that placed fifth at the NJCAA Division II National Tournament in 2009, and barely missed getting back there in 2010. Martin was a big reason why, hitting .410 with 45 doubles, 20 home runs and 163 RBI during those two seasons. More than just a big hitter, she was also named the region defensive player-of-the-year at third base, but could play first base for the Moccasins, depending on what lineup they want to field.

Martin isn’t the only player Florida Southern signed from Iowa Central CC. She’s joined by junior second baseman Steph Graziani, another NJCAA All-American who earned that honor in 2010. If Martin supplied the power for the Tritons, then Graziani provided the speed, a lethal combination the Mocs hope to exploit too. After stealing 44 bases as a freshman at Iowa Central, she swiped 44 more as a sophomore, and finished her junior college career with a .408 batting average and an on-base percentage of nearly .500. Graziani’s ability to get on base, and run once she gets there, should give Florida Southern another element to its offense, and the Mocs hope to have her in the leadoff spot.

While Graziani played second base for Iowa Central, there’s a chance she could end up in the outfield at Florida Southern. The Moccasins already have a returning starter at second in senior Peggy Alex, so a position change, even a temporary one, could be in one, or both, of their futures. Alex has already started 132 games for the Mocs since her freshman year, playing both second and third, and hit .325 as a sophomore. Last year, she hit .257, and only a of couple of rough weeks in late March and early April kept her from finishing over .300 again. She also led the team in walks after finishing second in that department two years ago, demonstrating her ability to get on base even when she isn’t hitting. That’s one reason why the Mocs would like to see both Graziani and Alex in the lineup together.

At shortstop, the Moccasins return sophomore Dezirae Parsons, who started all 48 games as a freshman. Parsons hit .240 in her rookie season, but finished much stronger than that with three multi-hit games in her last six starts and a .350 on-base percentage during that stretch. In the field, her strong arm gives her a chance to throw out any base runner from almost anywhere on the infield.

Parsons will have to fend off a challenge for her job though, from freshman Christie Bailey, a 4-year starter at Jacksonville’s Bartram Trail High School. She not only helped the Bears win two state titles, she also played a role in four of the five runs they scored in those two state championship games. Like Parsons, Bailey has the type of arm that can be a weapon in itself at shortstop.

The Moccasins hope to have more stability in the outfield than they did last year, when six different players started at least 11 games, eight players started overall, and 13 different combinations were used throughout the season. Of the six who saw the most action, four are back again this year, but one of those is Clark, who will pitch and possibly see time at first base, and another one is Foley, who could remain at third. That leaves seniors Dani Blake and Lindsey Powell, a pair of three-year starters, likely manning two of the outfield positions, with another one still to be determined.

Blake was the Mocs’ starting centerfielder as a sophomore, and was slated to play there again last year before a pre-season knee injury kept her out until March. After spending the majority of her time in leftfield as a junior, the Mocs would like to move her back to center this year. Either way, she’s one of the league’s more reliable outfielders with only two errors in two years. Offensively, Blake is a .288 career hitter after moving to the left side of the plate where her speed can put a tremendous amount of pressure on a defense.

Powell is also back for her fourth year as a starter, and though she’s filled in capably in both centerfield and at first base, Bellotto would like to have her in right. No matter where she’s played defensively though, Powell has always produced as the #3 hitter in the lineup, helping her earn All-SSC honors three times, and All-South Region status in 2009. She hit .370 with four home runs and 21 RBI as a junior, and has gotten better every year. She’s the last player opposing pitchers want to see at the plate when the game is on the line.

Junior Karlyn Scott is also in the outfield mix after starting five games last year in leftfield, and playing in a total of 47 games in her career. She reached base safely in four of the games she started as a sophomore, and adjusted well to her new position after moving from second base. Brandy Pikus is another junior who’s seen a lot of playing time as a pinch-runner and pinch-hitter, and now wants to transform that experience into more time as an outfielder. She’s played in 46 games over the last two years, so she’s already proven her worth on several occasions.

The Moccasins have two freshmen outfielders as well, and both of them will be competing for playing time too. Khaliah Brown, who also plays second base, came to Florida Southern from Fallon, Nevada where she made her mark for Churchill County High School as an all-conference pick in both softball and basketball. The same was true for Kianna Murphy at Seneca Valley High School in Maryland, and Bellotto indicated both players have tremendous upside. Brown gives the Moccasins additional speed, and the versatility that comes with being both an infielder and outfielder, and Murphy has the type of bat that could make an impact at some point this season.

The schedule won’t afford the Mocs much time to start slowly. After opening at home with local NAIA foe Webber International on February 16, the Moccasins will go on the road for 13 of their next 15 games, including a 3-game series at defending SSC champion Rollins College on February 22 and 23. They’ll also face Palm Beach Atlantic and Alabama-Huntsville during that stretch as part of the Wolves Invitational hosted by West Georgia. Both the Sailfish and the Chargers qualified for the NCAA South Region Tournament last year, as did Dowling (NY), and conference rival Nova Southeastern, who the Mocs will face at home to end the regular season on April 28 and 29.

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