Georgia Regents softball seeks improvement with a year of experience

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Georgia Regents softball saw its run of 30 or more wins each season come to an end in 2013, but the Jaguars are looking to return to their usual success with more experience.

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Freshman Brianna Dickens fields a ground ball during Jags practice Thursday. The team starts its season at Wingate.  JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN/STAFF
JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN/STAFF
Freshman Brianna Dickens fields a ground ball during Jags practice Thursday. The team starts its season at Wingate.

The Jaguars lost seven seniors from the core of their team in 2012 after finishing runner-up in the NCAA Southeast Regional and sporting a 33-18 record. It marked four consecutive seasons that the Jaguars had 30 or more wins.

They felt the blow of losing their core by dropping 10 of their first 11 games last season and going 18-32. The season was capped by losing their final seven in a row.

Georgia Regents still has just one senior this season, but the team that started several freshmen in 2013 is a year older, and includes more freshmen who could play roles in improving upon its record.

“Most of these kids have a year under their belt now, and some of them two years,” coach Melissa Brocato said. “Experience makes a big difference, just to actually see what college ball is like.”

Brocato, entering her 16th year with the program, said a tough early-season schedule will help develop maturity and experience by the time the Peach Belt Conference schedule begins in March.

“I want them to have good competition before we even get to conference,” Brocato said. “The more mature your team gets, the more they understand how things work, and the more they get it. Hopefully, that’ll be the case with the girls this year.”

The Jaguars will rely on the left-handed arm of sophomore Haley Birkle to lead the pitching staff. Birkle posted a 2.45 ERA with 61 strikeouts while leading the team with 148 innings as a freshman.

Fellow sophomore Paige Deschaine was also forced into the rotation early last season and will be counted on as the No. 2 starter.

The Jaguars failed to produce a .300 hitter last season, but the team still managed several good on-base percentages. Junior outfielder Molly Walton hit .287 and led the team with a .396 on-base percentage and 13 stolen bases. Fellow junior outfielder Brooke Stephens hit .276 with a .375 on-base percentage, while junior second baseman Hannah Vaughn had a .389 on-base percentage thanks to a team-high 29 walks.

“To be a small team in numbers and size, we have a lot of offensive potential,” Brocato said. “They’ve really been applying what we’ve been teaching, and I think we’re going to be pretty decent offensively.”

Georgia Regents starts the season with a 12-game road trip, beginning with a Saturday doubleheader at Wingate. The team’s first home game is a Feb. 18 doubleheader against Erskine.

The Jaguars open their conference schedule with eight consecutive road games. Their first conference home game is March 26 against West Georgia.

AT A GLANCE

A look at the college spring seasons:

JAN. 28: USC Aiken baseball

JAN. 29: Georgia Regents baseball

JAN. 30: Paine baseball

TODAY: Georgia Regents softball

USC AIKEN TO FEATURE A STRONG STAFF

COACH: Jerry Snyder, 27th season

2013 RECORD: 25-21-1, Peach Belt Tournament semifinals appearance

KEY RETURNERS: RHP India Kornegay (Sr.), RHP Taylor Morgan (So.), INF Kaitlyn White (Sr.)

NOTABLE: The Pacers are picked to finish seventh in the Peach Belt Conference after reaching the tournament semifinals last year. Kornegay is back to lead a strong pitching staff after posting a 1.27 ERA in 181 innings last season. Kornegay and White were named to the preseason all-conference team.

– David Lee, staff writer


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