FLORENCE, S.C. – The Francis Marion University women’s softball team will open its 2006 season on Sunday (Feb. 5) when the Patriots entertain Anderson University for a doubleheader.
The twinbill will start at 1:30 p.m. and admission is free.
Second-year FMU head coach Stacey Johnson welcomes back eight letterwinners, including six position starters and two starting pitchers, from the 2005 squad that finished 36-14, the fourth-highest win total in team history, and narrowly missed earning the program’s first-ever bid to the NCAA Tournament. FMU finished Peach Belt Conference play during the regular season tied for fifth place.
This year’s diamond edition has been picked to finish third in the race for the PBC 2006 softball title, according to the annual preseason poll by the conference’s coaches, and the Patriots are among the “others receiving votes” in the NFCA preseason Top 25 poll. The third-place selection in the PBC is the highest for the Patriots since FMU was tabbed for third in 1998.
“We are ready for the season to start,” Johnson said. “The preseason recognition is nice, but now we must earn the honors. We have a legitimate chance to win the Peach Belt, and our higher goal is to earn the program’s first NCAA Tournament invitation.”
Returning on the mound are junior right-hander Jessica Johnson (20-9 record, 1.87 earned run average) and sophomore righty Meg Thomy (5-2, 2.66 ERA). In 2005, Johnson became the first Patriot hurler in 16 seasons to reach 20 victories.
“Our opening game starting pitcher is still up in the air,” Johnson explained. “With our two returnees and the addition of freshmen Serena Lim and Lakyn Bendle, we have more depth than last year. Lim has the opportunity to make an immediate impact, and should take the burden of extra innings off the shoulders of Johnson.”
“Johnson is a hard-worker and well-respected by her teammates. She persevered through 2005, pitching through injuries to a 20-win season.”
Leading the position returnees are All-PBC and All-Region shortstop Allie Aleman (2005 stats: .404, 4 HRs, 33 RBIs). Catcher Jamie Wiggins (.239, 5 HRs, 14 RBIs) is the squad’s lone senior. Also returning are junior infielder Tatjana Slawson (.301), who has driven in 91 runs over her first two seasons, junior infielder Janine Allen (.347), junior right fielder Jenna Sexton (.324), and sophomore first baseman Monica Wofford (.299, 7 HRs, 31 RBIs).
“Jamie is our backbone – a leader on and off the field,” Johnson said. “Her bat has a lot of pop in it (10 home runs over the past two years), and she wants to go out with a bang with a great senior year. If she stays within herself, that success will follow.”
Aleman and Wiggins are the team captains for 2006. Johnson added that freshman Shannan Tyson will most likely bat leadoff, while playing third base or patrolling an outfield spot. “Shannan puts the ball in play, and makes solid contact. In the field, she has the strongest arm on the team. She will contribute immediately.” The coach pointed to Aleman, Slawson, Allen, and Wofford as the team’s run producers. The four combined to drive in 129 of the team’s 239 runs a year ago.
Wofford and Allen are battling for the first-base spot, with the loser likely to occupy the designated hitter role. Allen may also see some action at third base. Slawson will start at second base with Aleman at shortstop. Freshmen Shawn Moore and Laura Hauff will also see some action at the middle infield positions.
Freshman Megan Pangburn will back up Wiggins behind the plate, while also playing some in right field. Freshman Kayla Ruede will also play some behind the plate and in the infield.
In the outfield, Sexton will move from right to left field. Tyson and Bendle will both see action in center field, while freshman Stevie Arrand, Pangburn, and Johnson will vie for play playing time in right field.
For the second straight year, the Patriots hit a school-record 42 home runs in 2005, while ranking 19th in NCAA Division II in slugging percentage.
Francis Marion has averaged nearly 33 wins per season over the past 11 campaigns. The Patriots' 50-game schedule includes nine home doubleheaders and the annual Patriot Invitational Tournament, a three-day, 34-team event at the Freedom Florence Softball Complex, March 10-12. The PBC Softball Tournament will be played April 21-23 in Aiken, S.C.