FLORENCE, S.C. – Francis Marion University will open its 2012 softball season this weekend by hosting the inaugural Swamp Fox Classic at the Freedom Florence Recreational Complex.
The Patriots will play four games, two each on Saturday (Feb. 4) and Sunday (Feb. 5). Saturday’s schedule has FMU playing Chowan University at noon and 2 p.m. and the University of Charleston (W.Va.) facing Virginia State University at noon and 2 p.m. Sunday’s slate pits FMU against Virginia State at noon, Chowan against Charleston at noon, FMU against Charleston at 2 p.m. and Chowan against Virginia State at 2 p.m.
Daily admission is $6 for adults and $4 for children.
Following this weekend, Francis Marion will play a pair of home doubleheader at its on-campus FMU Softball Field: Feb. 12 against Mars Hill College and Feb. 15 against Wingate University.
The Patriots' 52-game schedule includes 11 home doubleheaders and two in-season mini-tournaments. Francis Marion will open its new state-of-the-art 500-seat FMU Softball Stadium in March. This year’s Peach Belt Conference Tournament will be hosted by Columbus State University.
Eighth-year head coach Stacey Vallee welcomes back 12 letterwinners, including six position starters and one starting pitcher, from the 2011 squad that finished 24-21-1. FMU will be looking to make its third appearance in the NCAA Division II National Tournament over the past five seasons.
“We are excited to start the 2012 campaign,” Vallee stated. “Our returnees are showing a passion to achieve success and prove people wrong. They are striving toward personal goals that will in turn help achieve team goals. Moving into a great new stadium doesn’t hurt morale either.”
“As a squad, we must bring with us all three parts of the game (defense, pitching, offense) to be successful in the tough Peach Belt Conference. We return a very solid defense (ranked 27th in Division II last year with a .968 fielding percentage) and one of our two starting pitchers from 2011. We feel as though we have increased the quality of our pitching staff from a year ago. So now we must also increase our hitting (.252 team average in 2011).
Leading the returnees is All-Region and two-time All-Conference center fielder Destinea Schneider (.352, 28 runs, 22-25 SBs) and two-time All-Conference second baseman Ashley Jaramillo (.293, 3 HRs, 28 RBI). Schneider ranked 47th nationally last season in stolen bases per game, and is 33-of-40 in stolen base attempts over the past two seasons with a .414 on-base percentage. Jaramillo has started 148 of 149 games during her three-year career at FMU and has tallied a .314 average, 13 homers, and 103 RBIs.
Right-handed pitcher Kayla Ellingsen (11-8, 2.16 ERA) returns on the mound along with junior southpaw Murphy McConnell (2-2, 2.47 ERA). Vallee pointed to Ellingsen as her probable starter in Saturday’s season opener. She also mentioned that freshman righty Katie Carnes, a product of Central of Pageland High School, will also see some innings this weekend.
Junior catcher Olivia Ferguson (.205) returns for her third year behind home plate. Junior third baseman Tristan Faile (.260, 2 HRs), sophomore utility players Carson Summersett (.207) and Olivia Zielinski (.184), and Ferguson were among six players from last year’s squad to earn NFCA All-America Scholar-Athlete recognition. Other returnees include senior starting first baseman Megann Sallinger (.240, team-leading 4 HRs), sophomore utility player Taylor Luff (.235), and sophomores Sara Broderick (.256) and Lindsey Brown (.187). Broderick and Brown started a combined 57 games as freshman and should be vying for starting spots in 2012.
The 2012 squad includes six newcomers: three freshmen and three transfers. Heading that list are junior outfielder Jazz Holiday (Spartanburg Methodist College), a Florence native; freshman catcher and third baseman Krissy Longstreet (Canterbury School of Florida); and Carnes.
“Jazz has worked extremely hard during the preseason and could blossom into a force in the Peach Belt. She possesses the ability to be a power hitter or a drag hitter from the left side. With Krissy having the skill to catch, it will allow us to move Olivia (Ferguson) to the outfield on some occasions.
In 2011, the Patriots also ranked 52nd nationally in earned run average (2.36), 53rd in stolen bases per game (1.35), and 91st in double plays turned per game (0.28).
Francis Marion has won at least 30 games in 12 of the last 15 seasons.