Softball expands versatility for upcoming season
Friday, September 26, 2014
By Mark McGee
Softball expands versatility for upcoming season

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Coach Kristin Ryman is playing a softball version of musical chairs so far this fall.

Versatility has been a key word to describe the Lady Bisons in the past and this combination – 13 returnees and six newcomers – might be the most versatile group yet.

Saturday afternoon at 12:30 fans will have the opportunity to see the Lady Bisons in action when they face Belmont at Draper Diamond at Smith Stadium. A scorecard might be needed to keep up with all of the moves.

“We have six new players which is more than we have had for a while,” Ryman said. “One of our main goals is to get a feel for where our new players fit. We really believe that all six of them are going to contribute in some way. They might not be starters but they are all talented enough where they are going to contribute right away.”

Two infielders return from last season – Paige Neely and Mimi Cartwright. But Neely has moved from third base to shortstop and Cartwright is working at third and her old position at second.

“It feels like we have an entire new infield this year and that is a challenge,” Ryman said.

Joining Cartwright in workouts at second are Jordan Abell and Baylee Williams, a transfer from Chattanooga State. Abell is sidelined with an injury and her return date this fall is uncertain.

“So far we have seen good things out of all of them,” Ryman said. “Jordan has improved quite a bit offensively. Mimi has done some good things at second and third. Baylee is defensively as smooth as any of them. She has a good backhand and covers ground pretty well.”

Riley Brown, a freshman, has been working at both third and short.

“She has a cannon of an arm,” Ryman said. “She is going to be exciting to watch defensively.”

First base is also crowded. Caitlin Plocheck, a freshman; Aguirre and transfer Laura Dukes are working at the position along with Taylor Neuhart and Madison Wray.

“Caitlin has played a lot of first base when she hasn’t been pitching,” Ryman said. “She brings some quickness and experience at the position.

“We like Gracey in right field. But we like the option of her in right field and first base. Laura Dukes, a transfer, also has experience at first.”

Dukes and Fenichel are also both looking solid at catcher.

“We are really excited about what a lot our new players are bringing to the table offensively,” Ryman said. “Dukes is really going to be a good power hitter for us. Plocheck and Finichel have done some good things at the plate.”

All of the starting outfielders return – left fielder Brianne Welch, center fielder Brittany Elmore and right fielder Gracey Aguirre who is working her way back into the position after being injured for most of last season.

Fenichel is also seeing time in the outfield. Her primary position is catcher, but she is also working at third base as well.

Several other outfielder possibilities return in Dee Baddley, Becca Dean and Kasey Gibson.

“We have Elmore in center and Welch in left,” Ryman said. “A lot of it is who is going to take the third spot in the outfield. We would like to have Gracey in right. She goes hard and does a nice job.

“But we like having options. Dee stepped in late last year and did a nice job. We didn’t miss a beat with her in the NCAA Tournament. Becca is doing some really nice things offensively and could develop into a Brittany Elmore-type player. Kasey has improved tremendously from last year and offensively is doing some really good things.”

The most versatile player may be Wray who has seen time at third, first, catcher, shortstop and right field.

“Madison is a true utility player,” Ryman said. “We have moved her all over the place. A lot of people don’t realize how versatile she is.

“She has caught some for us in the bullpen and will catch some innings for us in games this fall. You put her at a position and she has the I.Q. to figure out what she is supposed to be doing. She doesn’t miss a beat.  She is an invaluable piece of this team.”

Ryman likes having so many pieces to move around.

“The thing that we have liked about a lot of our teams in recent years is the versatility,” Ryman said. “It is no different than this team. It is potentially stronger with this team.

“In our fall games you are not going to see very many of our girls play defensively at one position. We are going to be swapping girls in and out. We want to get an idea of different combinations, who plays the best together and who handles certain situations the best.”