Softball features a new set of faces and pitching staff

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Courtesy Photo: St. Francis Athletics

The Southern Miss softball team features 10 new faces, including seven freshmen, for the 2019 season. One of the biggest changes is the presence of a completely new pitching staff.

The Golden Eagles are coming off a 19-36 season in 2018, having missed the Conference USA tournament for a second consecutive season.

However, the biggest addition to the pitching staff and team is junior Abby Trahan, a transfer from Saint Francis University in Loretto, Pennsylvania. Trahan led Saint Francis in pitching in both her freshman and sophomore years, throwing a combined 384.1 innings and had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 289 strikeouts to 96 walks.

For Trahan, leading Southern Miss back to being a more successful program is a challenge she more than accepts and is one of the reasons why she chose Southern Miss.

“The culture that I feel was needed to be built,” Trahan said. “I knew that they had not been doing really well the past couple years so I knew that after talking to the coaches they wanted to make a change and the players wanted to make a change and people I knew who played here wanted to make a change. So I was kind of excited to come in built up the program all over again.”

“I love that [Trahan] is coming in with experience from another Division I school, which sounds like titles don’t matter, but when you are at this level, it’s reassuring to know that someone has faced really big opponents and had success,” senior catcher Samantha Papp said. “She has this experience that’s really assuring even though that’s a new pitcher, it’s okay because she’s been here before, and she has the mentality that she can go after it against any opponent. She has this dominating mindset.”

For Papp, who was named to the preseason C-USA All-Conference team, a completely new pitching staff is not something she has had to deal with since joining the team during her freshman year, but Papp said it is something she welcomes.

“I think we’re more talented than when we were last year,” Papp said. “We have a full pitching staff that’s all new, which is interesting for me as a catcher especially. Just learning all their pitches and seeing the ways they interact with each other, but it’s cool getting to hear where everyone’s mindsets are this year.”

Another notable addition to the pitching staff is junior college transfer Bailie Springfield. Springfield was an NJCAA All-American in one season at Itawamba Community College, where she posted a 1.54 earned run average and a 20-5 record. In addition, the staff will feature two freshman pitchers, Makenna Pierce and Kaylan Ladner.

In the lineup, Southern Miss will have new faces at shortstop, left field and right field, with a position battle at first base between sophomore Karley Nichols and senior Sarah Van Schaik. In left field, sophomore Kaley Fruge and freshman Carolina Casey will battle for playing time, and in right field, the decision will be between freshmen Kaitlyn Passeau and Madison Rayner.

Last season, Southern Miss had what seemed to be an endless string of injuries, but fortunately, many younger players that saw action return to the team this year. The Golden Eagles return a total of eight players who saw significant playing time in 2018.

The rest of lineup is set with Papp at catcher, sophomore Alyssa ‘Tata’ Davis at third base, senior Chase Nelson at second base, sophomore Destini Brown in center field and junior transfer Lacey Sumerlin at shortstop.

Last season the team had a batting average of .264, and Sumerlin will be imperative in raising that average in 2019. Sumerlin played at Georgia during the 2016 and 2017 seasons and sat out in 2018. While at Georgia, Sumerlin started in 121 games for the Bulldogs, where she earned SEC All-Freshman honors, averaged a .256 batting average and hit nine home runs.

“I think it starts game one,” Trahan said. “Winning game one and just setting the tone. I think game one, if we come out here and set the tone for the rest of the season. I can’t imagine how excited everyone’s going to be seeing that it’s a new Southern Miss program and new players were going to win this year. I just think it starts game one.”

Southern Miss will open the season with the Black and Gold Invitational, beginning with a doubleheader against Houston Baptist and Central Arkansas on Feb. 8 starting at 1 p.m.