Coach Emily Russell enters her 20th year of directing the Lady Flames and has amassed a record of 660-346-1. She will be seeking to replace four of her top players when Lee opens the season on Feb. 4th in the Annual Gulf Shores (Alabama) Invitational. Shortstop Kayla Louie was a five-year starter and led last-season's team in hits (48, 39 games) and batted .366. Outfielder Lily Hatcher hit .360 while pitcher, outfielder Abby McKinney was a steady leader and catcher Madison Besaw was behind the plate most of the time.
These key pieces will certainly be missed when then new season begins.
Key players returning
Versatile senior Taylor De Adder was named to the Preseason All-GSC team and will help lead coach Russell's team into the 2022 season. The all-conference player paced the Lady Flames in hitting .384, runs scored 34, top slugging percentage mark .625, and tied teammate Laney Harris in RBI total 36. In 12 circle appearances, the native of Maple Ridge, British Columbia posted a 4-4 record with a 4.34 ERA. Madison Barnett, a sophomore from Tullahoma, Tenn. joined De Adder in carrying much of the pitching load down the stretch last season. Barnett appeared in 21 games and started 16 with a 7-7 mark and a 4.45 ERA. Laney Harris, a sophomore from the Walker Valley program, returns after a solid freshman year at second base. She batted .360, tying De Adder with 36 RBI and a .632 slugging mark. Annie Ormsby, a sophomore outfielder from Woodstock, Georgia, batted .327 and sophomore Kylie Bohl saw action in 28 games.
Top new recruits or transfers
Coach Russell will look to replace a couple of pitchers with transfers Nyah Vogel, Caroline Pattinson and Alaina Watson. Vogel comes to Lee from South Carolina-Upstate; Pattinson from Bartlesville, Okla. and Watson is a freshman from Powell, Tenn. "They all have great experience and I think we have elevated our staff that is returning DeAdder and Barnett. We have a lot of pitchers that are ready to compete, and I think this team will respond," said Russell. Alexia Scalza, a freshman recruit from Winter Garden, Fla. was impressive this fall and is looking to replace the big shoes left at shortstop by Louie.
Looking at catching
The Lady Flames had senior Janina Remley working behind the dish last season as she prepared to replace Madison Besaw. Two freshmen, Rylie Goodridge and Sidney Lee will also be battling for playing time. "They each have different strengths and I think we will be working them all early to get a rotation," noted the coach.
Several infield options
Coach Russell feels she has several options at third base. "Based on offensive production, I think we will find our starter for this position," she pointed out. "I think that (transfer) Bre Patton (Chattanooga State) and (sophomore) Kylie Bohl will get early reps there and have both worked well there in the fall. Harris is back at second after an outstanding freshman year. She is solid and worked at both middle infield positions. At first, we have De Adder who moved to third last year to help fill in for us. She is more comfortable at first and I think that shows. Bohl will also be working at first base again when De Adder is pitching."
Quality non-conference schedule
"Due to our location our non-conference schedule contains a lot of tough Peach Belt Conference and South Atlantic Conference opponents," allowed Russell. "We are fortunate to be in this location with quality schools all around, but it also forces you to stay on top of your game. We are going to the GCI (Gulf Shores Invitational) and playing top teams as well as two Gulf South Conference teams that we miss on our weekend series rotation (West Alabama and West Georgia). I am excited to challenge our team against these tough teams as we prepare for GSC play."
Gulf South Conference always strong
Pick your poison from top to bottom the GSC is not only one of the strongest but one of the more balanced in Division II. Coach Russell says much like last year Auburn Montgomery and Valdosta State should both be very strong again. The Warhawks earned the top spot in the preseason coaches poll with 138 total points and seven first place votes. The Blazers followed with 136 points and five first place nods. Alabama Huntsville, always has a top-notch contender, follows in third with 120 points. "All three have a lot of experience returning and they have been a post-season contender with these kids. You must be one of the best teams in the country to win this conference. That is another reason that we challenge ourselves when we play out of conference," she added. West Florida (116 points) earned the other first place vote and is picked fourth while West Georgia rounds out the top five with 98 points. The Lady Flames are picked to finish eighth with 69 points.
Goals set for this team
"This team wants to build on what we did last year. During the West Alabama series last year (April 16-17) we reaffirmed our goal based on where we were at the time season-wise. We worked to earn a spot into the conference tournament so that we could build on it next year. We talked then about gaining post-season experience and now that we have that to build on, our goal is to go further and participate in the NCAA tournament," Coach Russell explained.