Cougar Field welcomed the softball team this weekend for the first four games of its exhibition season. The Cougars dominated the field all weekend, remaining undefeated through each game. Head Coach Sandy Montgomery said the team showed promise, particularly with its new members, but that it also has some work to do.
“We’ve got a really new team; we’ve got 10 new players. We’ve still got a lot of things to work through, and obviously it’s going to take some time to get to know each other and get everybody on the same page,” Montgomery said. “Overall, I thought we hit the ball pretty well and played really solid defense for the most part and got some decent pitching at times and managed to pitch well enough to win, and that’s what’s important.”
Montgomery said the amount of new players and the two underclassman pitchers creates plenty of opportunities for growth for the Cougars, and the team will continue to work on its combination of offense and defense in preparation for the regular season.
“We’ve got a very young pitching staff. Pitching is the most important thing you have on your team, so other than the ability to score runs, you have to have a good pitching staff. The combination always is to play good defense, hit the ball, score runs and pitch well and try to keep yourselves in the ball game,” Montgomery said.
Returning to the mound this season is sophomore pitcher Baylee Douglass, Ohio Valley Conference 2015 Freshman of the Year and finalist for NCAA Freshman of the Year. Douglass earned a shutout against Lewis and Clark Community College Sunday, Sept. 27. Montgomery said Douglass’ experience from last year will serve her well.
“She was actually a Top 25 finalist for Freshman of the Year last year in Division I. So coming in as a sophomore, she’s had a lot of innings and a lot of experience. She’s a veteran of sorts,” Montgomery said.
New to the Cougars’ pitching staff this year is sophomore pitcher Ashley Koziol, who transferred from Youngstown State University. Montgomery said she looks forward to Koziol’s further development as a pitcher.
“We acquired her late in the summer, and I think she’s got a lot of potential,” Montgomery said.
According to Montgomery, freshman utility player Alyssa Herrin was a standout outside the pitching staff.
“She came in and we knew she was going to be a nice player for us, but she really did a nice job this weekend, and I think she ended up hitting like a .600 on the weekend. She just doesn’t play like a freshman. We’re very happy to have her on our squad,” Montgomery said.
Another standout player, according to Montgomery, was senior outfielder Jordan LaFave, who was one of four players in 2015 to start all 59 of the Cougars’ games.
“[LaFave] led our team in hitting. I think she hit .667 for the weekend; she’s taken over the lead-off spot for us and we expect a lot of good things out of her as well,” Montgomery said.
The team is adjusting to losing a few players as well as adding the 10 newcomers for this season, but Montgomery said she is excited for the team to find its chemistry.
“You just try to continue to reload. I’ve never been one that’s afraid to play freshmen; we’ve got a pretty big freshman class this year, and I’m very happy about our transfers that we have coming in,” Montgomery said.
The Cougars are aiming to expand their achievements from last season and clinching a win in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament. Montgomery said she has a high standard for the team as the season progresses.
“We always have high expectations for our program. It’s an expectation for us to win the conference tournament every year, and if you do that, you make the NCAA tournament,” Montgomery said. “We think we’ve got a good chance of getting back into the conference tournament and giving ourselves a good chance to win.”
Montgomery said the exhibition season for the Cougars is about perfecting their game and working on team chemistry.
“I think we try to worry about ourselves and not worry about our competition. We try to play errorless ball and execute on offense. I feel pretty good about our first weekend,” Montgomery said. “We haven’t been practicing very long, so getting a team of 10 new players together and on the same page is always a challenge. It just takes a little time, and I think we’ve got a pretty good shot of being successful.”
The Cougars continue their exhibition season in Carbondale next weekend facing against John A. Logan Community College at noon and SIU Carbondale at 4 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 3.