BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The Birmingham-Southern College softball team is young, but primed for success in the 2018 season. BSC will look to its lone senior and seven returning juniors for leadership and experience to gel the eight newcomers into the program. After a Southern Athletic Championship in 2016, the Panthers have a taste of the title and want more.
"I'm excited," said Head Coach Kimball Cassidy. "Last year we learned a very valuable lesson. We went in with a lot of talent. With all the talent in the world you can win games, but at the end, it's not going to get you as far as you want to go. So we've really stressed team chemistry. We feel like we're a top tier team in D3 and we just didn't really show that last year. So it will be interesting to see how we approach that and how we take that kind of thing on. So far so good. We're on the right track."
Key returners for the Panther's success include National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-Americans Savannah Lee (Lascassas, Tenn./Oakland HS) and Haley Crumpton (Alabaster, Ala./Thompson HS). The pair were first-team all-region and first-team all-conference last year. Lee was the 2017 NCAA Division III statistical champion in both home runs and home runs per game. Defensively, Kendall Hamm (Adamsville, Ala./Sumitron Christian HS) has been a staple in the middle infield. And Abby Spencer (Auburn, Ala./Auburn HS) was clutch in kick starting the Panthers offense last season.
"[Abby] is a steady leadoff hitter," said Cassidy. "Good on-base percentage, gets her fair share of walks, and always puts the ball in play. Our shortstop Kendall will anchor down the middle up there so we should be pretty strong with the middle."
"It will be good to have those two to add some speed into our lineup," said Cassidy. "Which is something we've had, but not to this degree in the past."
Defensively, Ella Day (Gadsden, Ala./Gadsden City) is the newest utility player for the Panthers. "I think Ella will step in and fill a big role," said Cassidy. "She's fast as can be, can play third and second, and even outfield if needed. She'll fill a role somewhere."
Battling for a starting role behind the plate will be freshmen Krystyn Fisher (Alpharetta, Ga./Chattahoochee HS) and Saydee Keith (Corner, Ala./Corner HS). "Each will see time back there," Cassidy said. "Both hit the ball very, very well. So it will be interesting to see who wins that battle."
After graduating a starting pitcher, Cassidy believes freshman Jessica Perley (Vestavia Hills, Ala./Vestavia HS) will be able to step into the role. "As long as she can stay healthy, we should be okay on the mound. We're junior heavy, but we also have a bunch of freshmen too that will immediately contribute to our team. So we're going to be young on the infield, that's for sure, but I think that's okay. That's how you grow and learn."
The Panthers open the 2018 season at home in a doubleheader against Covenant College on Wednesday, Feb. 7. They then head to the Emory Tournament (February 10-11) and the Piedmont Classic (February 17-18). BSC returns home to start conference action against Centre College (February 24-25). On March 3-4, the Panthers face some of their biggest challenges at the NFCA Classic in Tucson, Ariz. when they take on three teams that finished in the top 25 last year.
"When we go to Arizona, we'll face the defending national champion," said Cassidy. "Which I think is good for us. That's what we want. We want to face the good competition so when we get to conference, we feel like we can compete with anybody.
"I think the fall was a really good time for us. We've changed some dynamic and how we do things. And bringing on Jeff [Gillespie] has been nice. [He] has stepped right in and done a fantastic job as far as recruiting goes and getting people prepared. The girls relate well to him and I enjoy having him around."