National Champ Chattanooga State Softball Reloading Under New Coach Blythe Golden

Monday, February 4, 2013
Chattanooga State softball 2013
Chattanooga State softball 2013

Chattanooga State softball has launched its 2013 season under new coach Blythe Golden and assistant Amanda Lindsey with a 5-2 record during a Florida excursion. That came after the Tigers won the national JUCO championship last season.

The Tigers begin the season nationally ranked pre-season no. 17. The team has only two full-time starters from the 2012 National Championship team returning for the 2013 season. There will be many new faces in the Tiger lineup this year because of a large freshman class.

Coach Golden said, "We have some freshman who are ready to step into their roles both offensively and defensively and make an immediate impact. They are working hard and becoming a student of the game. Their efforts really showed off in our first weekend of competition and I look forward to lots of production throughout the year."

The offense will be led by returning players Lacye Walker and Marina Wilkerson. They were heavy contributors on the 2012 National Championship team. Kristen Qualls, Beth Breeden and Makinley Fletcher will also compete for starting roles. Their experience from last year should bring confidence and productivity to the lineup.

Coach Golden said, "We will rely heavily on the small sophomore class to bring leadership in tough situations, as well as offensive production at the top of our lineup," Walker's batting average after opening weekend was .615 with a slugging percentage of 1.192 (6 2B, 3 HR, and 15 RBIs). Wilkerson and Neely also came up big for the Lady Tigers with a combined 4 doubles and 7 RBIs; both hitting above .350 for the weekend.

The Tigers will be led in the circle by three key pitchers. Haley Fagan is a transfer from UT-Knoxville who joined the team this January. Lacye Walker will also see some innings on the mound as well as at first base. The third pitcher will be freshman Shelby Willard from Chattanooga Central High School. Golden said, "All of our pitchers have been coming along and working hard to develop into strong competitors. They will each see lots of innings on the mound. We are still working to see what combinations we will like best. We like the fact that each of them brings something different to the circle and this will help us keep other offenses guessing."

The Tigers lost the season opener to Miami Dade (5-1) and to Santa Fe State College (9-7) after making a 7-run comeback when trailing 8-0 in the 5th. They were able to beat Florida State College at Jacksonville 6-3 in the nightcap on Saturday. FSCJ was ranked 5th nationally and 3rd in the state of Florida. Chattanooga State was able to blow past Broward with an 8-0 win in 5 innings, a 14-5 win over St. Johns River, and showed true grit on Sunday morning coming back from a 3-0 deficit in the 3rd inning to win 7-5 over Pensacola State.

Coach Golden said, "Our team showed great determination on opening weekend proving that they can come from behind to win close ballgames. We only had 5 outdoor practices leading up to the weekend and we did not know what we would get from our team. We fought hard and got better each game. Our at bats improved, our defense began to gel, and our pitchers stuck it out and were able to get us outs when we needed them."

The pitching staff combined for 33 strikeouts on the weekend. "Our pitching staff was not ready for a seven-game weekend so early in the season but we learned a lot about our weaknesses and what areas we need to tackle in February," Golden said. "We have confidence that our pitching staff will be where we want them when the time is right. In our league, with such long seasons, it is all about peaking at the right time. Coach Lindsey has done a tremendous job with our staff and we are looking forward to watching them progress to the top of their game as we move deeper into the season."

The Tigers will match up again on Feb. 21 in Panama City, Fla., against Gulf Coast State College. This will be a homecoming for new head coach Golden as she faces her former team in a double header before the Gulf Coast Beach Classic (Feb. 22-24). She said, "I am looking forward to watching our team play after working hard for three weeks of practice. They should be hungry to get out on the field again and stack up some wins on the weekend. It will be nice to go back and play in front of my home fan base and against my mentor and long time friend, Susan Painter.

"Gulf Coast has had a good start to their season and will be a tough opponent for us after sitting for three weeks. We want to be our best in March-May and in order to be our best we have to play the best and learn how to win big games."

The Tigers will also square off that weekend with Wallace-Hanceville, a frequent National Tournament participant, Northwest Florida State College, and State College of Florida - at team that represented Florida at the National Tournament last year.

1 Sierra Ford OF 5-8 Powhatan, VA (US) Powhatan Freshman
2 Courtney Clark 2B 5-5 Murfreesboro, TN (US) Riverdale Freshman
3 Makinley Fletcher 2B 5-4 Newnan, GA (US) Arlington Christian Sophomore
4 Baylee Williams SS 5-2 Farragut, TN (US) Farragut Freshman
7 Marina Wilkerson OF 5-8 Hogansville, GA (US) LaGrange Academy Sophomore
8 Lauren Heitz C 5-10 Orlando, FL (US) Lake Nona Freshman
9 Lacye Walker 1B 5-6 Ooltewah, TN (US) Grace Baptist Academy Sophomore
10 Emily Dagnan C 5-4 Jasper, TN (US) Sequatchie County Freshman
11 Haley Fagan P 6-0 Cornersville, TN (US) Cornersville Sophomore
12 Khadija Neely SS 5-4 Roanoke, AL (US) LaGrange Academy Freshman
14 Layne Smith P 5-11 Elkmont, AL (US) Elmont Freshman
15 Hannah Hodge SS 5-5 Hopkinsville, KY (US) Christian Co. Freshman
16 Kelsey Thomas SS 5-4 Jasper, TN (US) Marion County Freshman
17 Elyse Ferguson OF 5-7 Dunwoody, GA (US) Dunwoody Freshman
19 Kristen Qualls UT 5-9 Midland, GA (US) Northside Sophomore
20 Beth Breeden 1B 5-10 Sweetwater, TN (US) Sweetwater Sophomore
21 Kiauna Chang OF 5-4 Grovetown, GA (US) Grovetown Freshman
22 Shelby Willard P 5-10 Chattanooga, TN (US) Chattanooga Central Freshman
26 Shelby Robertson SS 5-5 Ringgold, GA (US) Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe Sophomore

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