Opening day is Friday and with the new season on the horizon, Coach Beverly Smith looks to take the next step in her tenth season at South Carolina and make a run to that legendary place in Oklahoma City, where dreams come true and hard work is rewarded.
A Look Back At 2019
Coming in with an outstanding record of 315-215 (.594), Coach Bev looks to build off last year’s 38-19 record and reach the WCWS for only the fourth time in school history (‘83,’89, & ‘97).
.@GamecockSoftbll had a couple postseason notables in 2019:— Patrick Osborne (@PatrickONealUSC) May 23, 2019
– 7th-straight trip to the postseason (program record)
– 4th-straight regional final (program record)
Fun times in the 803 right now. 🤙 #Gamecocks pic.twitter.com/hDUMd11aHa
However, in order to accomplish that, Coach Bev will look first to replace her two graduated seniors, outfielder Kennedy Clark and pitcher Dixie Raley, and junior Alexis Lindsey.
Earlier this offseason, Coach Bev lost rising junior Alexis Lindsey to early retirement due to a medical injury, dropping South Carolina to only two full primary outfielders, sophomore Haley Simpson and rising senior Lauren Stewart.
With Stewart predominantly playing center field and Simpson playing right field, there is still the question of who will play in left field.
Coach Bev’s top options would have to be either junior Alex Fulmer, a utility player with the potential to play in several positions, or sophomore Karly Heath, who spent most of her playing time last year as a pitcher, yet also logged some playing time in right field when she wasn’t on the mound.
However, Fulmer has three years of experience in the outfield, on top of impressive speed and agility, could be just the right fit for the opening in left field that Coach Bev will need to hold a strong defense this season.
Coach Bev loves to use a “by committee” approach and ensure players are well-rested and stay fresh by rotating players and positions a bit throughout the season.
Don’t count out freshman Hannah Kumiyama, either, who played outfield during Fall Ball and was a very strong contributor to the team’s success.
If Hannah Kumiyama swings the bat at the collegiate level the way she did at the high school level, she could be considered for SEC Freshman of the Year and become a staple in the lineup.
The Gamecocks also lost senior outfielder Kennedy Clark, a staple of South Carolina’s offense who accounted for 14% of her team’s runs, hitting fifth best in RBI’s (33), third best in slugging percentage (.654), and second best in on-base percentage (.493).
She was a player that drew major attention from opposing coaches and was gameplanned for every single game – yet with all their planning, Clark still managed to lead her team and be a critical piece in the lineup.
Her bat will be seriously missed in the lineup and her ability to almost always get on base when her team needed it most is a huge piece that must be replaced.
But more important than that will be what will be missed by her absence in the outfield.
Clark’s fielding percentage was the second highest amongst starters with a minimum of thirty starts (.991), second only to rising senior Cayla Drotar.
The other piece that will need to be replaced is the stellar senior pitcher Dixie Raley.
The only regret anyone will ever have regarding Dixie Raley is that we didn’t find her sooner or have her for longer.
Dixie’s 11-5 record last year consisted of several of South Carolina’s biggest wins, including her incredible performance across two games and twelve innings to seal two wins against then #4 Alabama, who at the time was 38-2.
Raley was responsible for 33% of the Gamecocks’ innings pitched last year, holding her opponents to a batting average of just .226, and pitched 124 innings and had seventeen starts on the season.
The production provided by Dixie will be a big hole that needs to be filled. However, this is sure to be Coach Bev’s deepest bullpen yet in her tenth year at the helm of USC’s softball program.
Carolina has six pitchers on the roster, the most she’s had in her time here. This includes four returning players who accounted for the remaining 77% of innings pitched.
Senior Cayla Drotar will more than likely have to continue to be the Gamecocks’ ace pitcher and keep up her average of 133.1 innings pitched in a season.
She was the Gamecocks’ winningest pitcher last season with twelve wins, and will look to once again lead this staff in 2020.
Second behind Raley last year, Drotar had 73 strikeouts throughout the season and held her opponents to a batting average of .239.
Fans should look forward to seeing the progress and senior leadership Drotar will bring to the circle, as well as the plate.
Junior Kelsey Oh will most likely be your Saturday starter and second in the rotation as she looks to rebound from a tough year of injury and struggle.
At the end of Oh’s freshman year, she was the talk of the Carolinas, finishing with a 14-5 record, a 1.92 ERA, 135 strikeouts, and 138.2 innings pitched.
Oh quickly made a name for herself, as her performances in the circle were a major reason the Gamecocks were able to get to their second ever trip to the Super Regionals against Arizona State in 2018.
In her freshman year, opponents only batted .195 against her and were often sent back to the dugout shaking their head.
In her sophomore season, Oh missed the first half due to an ankle injury and returned to maintain a 3.73 ERA and went 5-5 in 18 appearances.
Barring another serious injury, Gamecock fans can expect to see the same performance Oh put on in 2018 – with another year of tutelage by Coach Smith under her belt, #12 will be a force to be reckoned with in the SEC.
Sunday games for South Carolina softball are about to get very exciting as the expected Sunday starter will be rising sophomore Karly Heath.
Heath would led the Gamecocks in ERA (2.48), win percentage (8-0, 100%) and fewest hits (31). She also held her opponents to a .179 batting average as a freshman in 2019.
Heath was one the Gamecocks’ most effective pitchers last year and has to keep the ball rolling as she heads into her sophomore year.
The former Gatorade Player of the Year will prove to be a very important and diverse piece in the lineup, as she excels as a starting pitcher, an outfielder, and a designated hitter.
Last year, Heath batted .315 in 73 at bats, with 23 hits, five home runs, and slashing for a .545 slugging percentage.
Karly Heath, if she can avoid the dreaded sophomore slump, will be able to rack up the wins this year by helping her team and herself at the plate in multiple ways.
Finally, the last part of the rotation will be the midweek game starters and closers.
With six pitchers on the roster, Coach Bev now has the depth to split the load with a pure closer and three weekend starters, and still leave two pitchers to handle the midweek games.
This year’s recruiting class brought in two freshman pitchers – Bailey Betenbaugh, South Carolina’s third straight recruit as the SC Gatorade Player of the Year, and Karsen Ochs.
Betenbaugh would finish her senior season with a 21-4 record and a 0.64 ERA across 152.1 innings pitched only giving up 34 earned runs and ringing up 225 batters.
Karsen Ochs also will be bringing in an outstanding resumé from high school, compiling a 33-7 record, and a .98 ERA through 293.1 innings pitched, only giving up 163 hits, 41 earned runs, and two homers.
In four years, Karsen would ring up 421 batters and the average batter against her would only hit for .196.
These two freshman will be stellar additions to pitching staff and will provide the much needed depth that can help to keep the workhorses of the pitching staff rested to make the long run throughout the 2020 campaign.
With the order of the pitching staff addressed, one question remains – what is the batting order?
Last year’s Gamecock squad tallied one of their best hitting years, thanks to the amazing work and addition of Gamecock great Kaela Jackson who returned to the staff last off season as the team’s hitting coach, replacing Coach Matt Lisle.
Under Jackson’s guidance, the Gamecocks would shatter several hitting records, including most homers in a single season by a USC team (77).
You like home runs? We can do that.— Gamecock Softball (@GamecockSoftbll) June 25, 2019
Carolina has improved upon its home run total each of the past three years, including hitting 12 more in 2019 than 2018. That's the second-best year-to-year jump in the @scsbcoach_bev era. #OurSTATEment pic.twitter.com/agunRmjYE5
South Carolina would finish the year in the Tallahassee Regional, batting .306, scoring 335 runs across 57 games (an average of 5.9 runs a game), and as a team slugging .533.
This team had power in the bats last year, and with another year of Coach Jackson, we can expect to see a lot of fireworks on the offensive end.
Don’t, however, expect to see much change in the lineup, as it seemed that Coach Bev found a rotation that worked early on with Maguire, Boesel, Johns, and A. Kumiyama starting off the Gamecocks in the batting order.
We wouldn't pitch to her either 👀@JohnsJana led Carolina with 51 free bases in 2019, becoming the first player in the @scsbcoach_bev era to lead the program in that category back-to-back years. #OurSTATEment pic.twitter.com/KJN00tNxRF— Gamecock Softball (@GamecockSoftbll) June 19, 2019
From there, I would go with the first baseman Maddison Owens, catcher Jordan Fabian, center fielder Lauren Stewart, and then right fielder Haley Simpson.
The last two spots will be left fielder Alex Fulmer, who will more than likely (based on past observations) be the designated player so that pitcher Cayla Drotar can make plate appearances.
A. Kumiyama will swing the bat fourth for Fulmer in the lineup. This lineup will change only slightly if Oh or another pitcher (outside of Heath) is the pitcher of the day, in that Kumiyama will bat for the pitcher and Fulmer will get her chance to swing the bat.
Looking at the season ahead, I fully believe that the team we have on campus now is a team that can take the next step and make that run to Oklahoma City.
This year’s schedule will prove to have its challenges with a neutral site game against a very dangerous Washington Huskies team, and SEC road games at Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee.
However, it will also have serious opportunities as the Gamecocks will host SEC opponents Auburn, LSU, and Florida, as well as the perennial powerhouse Michigan.
2020 is sure to be a rollercoaster ride and true Gamecock fans will tell you – there’s not ANYONE they’d rather go to war with, than the 21 women who will wear “CAROLINA” across their jerseys.