FGCU Softball Team Opens Season on Saturday
FORT MYERS, Fla. – The Florida Gulf Coast University softball team makes its 2005 debut with a season opening doubleheader against Palm Beach Atlantic on Saturday at 2 p.m. at the FGCU Softball Complex.
The Eagles are eligible for NCAA postseason competition for the first time this spring. The Eagles must finish in the top six among the 36 teams in the Division II South Region to qualify for the regional tournament. The winners of the three conferences in the South Region — the Sunshine State Conference, the Gulf South Conference and the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference — receive automatic bids. FGCU plays as an independent and is ineligible for an automatic bid.
All 59 games on the schedule are against Division II competition, including 39 games against regional opponents. The 29-game home schedule features a number of teams from around the country playing in the Spring Break Invitational from March 5-8, including three teams ranked in the preseason top-25. Sunshine State Conference members Lynn, Eckerd, and Nova Southeastern plus #9 North Florida are the only in-state schools playing at FGCU. A five-game road trip in late February that includes #22 West Florida, and an 18-game road trip in April against that includes #6 Alabama-Huntsville will be crucial to the Eagles success.
Head coach Dave Deiros, who has led the Eagles to a 74-30-2 record the past two seasons, welcomes back six of his eight position players plus ace in the pitcher’s circle. With 15 regional contests to start the season, this year’s team may face the most difficult schedule in the program’s three-year history, but Deiros is optimistic heading into the new season.
“It will important to see how we respond to the pressure-cooker of the regional games, especially early in the year,” said Deiros. “Our schedule if full of tournament tested teams. It will be challenging.”
2005 FGCU Softball Outlook
The Eagles improved tremendously from year one to year two, improving by eight wins to finish 41-13-1 last spring. The Eagles need similar success for a chance to reach the NCAA regional tournament.
“Our team goal for this year is to be among the top six teams in the region and earn a bid,” said Deiros. “Our pitching is solid and defensively we hope to be able to hold teams down. The key will be how well we swing the bats.”
A big key to the Eagles success is the return of senior ace Kelly Powe (Naples) in the pitcher’s circle. Powe posted a 22-7 mark with three saves in 34 games last spring. She struck out 220 batters in 210 1/3 innings with a 0.63 ERA and 15 shutouts.
“Her trademark has been solid, consistent performances in the circle.” said Deiros. “We expect her to continue her level of success from the past two seasons.”
Sophomore Anne Voyles (Bronson, FL) earned valuable pitching experience last season and will be counted on more this spring. Sophomore transfer Jessica Brinkman (Clearwater, FL) and junior transfer Amanda Bechtoldt (New Baden, IL) may get into the mix as well.
“Annie displayed flashes of brilliance last year and kept some good teams down,” said Deiros. “We will be looking for her to be a solid No.2 pitcher. And both of our transfers looked good in the circle this fall.”
The Eagles batted .270 as a team last season, and gone are two of the top offensive threats – Boomer Ijjas and Ashley Congdon. Deiros expects his returnees to improve on their production.
“We have some players with the potential to be big-time performers,” said Deiros. “If we swing the bats as well as I think we can, we are going to be very competitive with the top teams in the region.”
Center fielder Ashley Cecil (Naples) will lead the Eagles offense from the top of the lineup this spring. Cecil hit .382 with 11 extra base hits and 41 stolen bases a year ago. Joining her in the outfield will be senior Blaire Toleman (Lehigh Acres, FL), who was second on the team last year with 24 RBI. Two freshmen - Natasha Sciallis (Naples) and Leslie Erwin (Fort Myers) - are competing for the leftfield position.
“Ashley is known for her offensive skills,” said Deiros. “But she is also an excellent center fielder who covers a lot of ground and has led our outfield in assists the last two years.”
Leading the Eagles infielders are a pair of returning veterans in senior second baseman Kristy Ringler (Labelle, FL) and junior shortstop Christine Beck (Hudson, FL). Junior third baseman Natasha Myer (Coral Springs, FL) should become more of a run-producer in 2005. Sophomore Kate Fishburn (Fort Myers), who started in 2003 but missed last season, and freshman Hillary Johnson (Fort Myers) are competing for the first base position. Sophomore Jessica Rouse (Jacksonville, FL) and freshman Alisha Boyd (Naples FL) provide depth in the infield positions.
Sophomore Lauren Donnelly (Jacksonville, FL) has the inside track on the starting catcher’s spot, though sophomore transfer Roz Tyre (Lake City, FL) may also see time there. Both are athletic enough to play in the outfield as well.
“Historically we have had slow starts as a team,” said Deiros. “We are not easing into the season. We need to play hard early and put ourselves in a position to compete for the post-season.”