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February 6, 2013

Softball Outlook: Golden Eagles aim for OVC Championship


2013 Golden Eagle softball roster
2013 Golden Eagle softball schedule

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Tech softball team will have a new look in 2013 as former Golden Eagle Bonnie Bynum takes over the helm. The team returns six starters and two pitchers but loses four starters including first-team All-OVC pitcher Holly Thomas.

"Losing somebody like Holly, who pitches so many innings, could be a detriment to any team," Bynum said. "But I think the team is ready to step up, especially our senior class. The group we have this year has a sense of energy that is very exciting.

The Golden Eagles open the 2013 season this weekend at the Georgia Southern Invitational in Statesboro, Ga. Here's a capsule look at the team.

Pitchers / Catchers

Senior Claudia Harke will lead the Golden Eagles in the circle in 2013. The lefty out of Kimberly, Wis., had a 2.72 ERA to go along with 53 strikeouts and a 1-6 record last season. "We've got a great senior pitcher in Harke," Bynum said. "She'll be the backbone of our pitching staff, and she loves the role of leading this team. I think Claudia is ready to step into Holly's role."

Joining Harke in the circle will be sophomore Taylor Ketchum. Ketchum fell third in line last season, starting 13 games and collecting a 3.04 ERA. Ketchum pitched 71.1 innings with a 3-8 record. "Taylor is working her way back into the rotation after surgery in the offseason. It's been a slow and steady process but she'll be back and ready to play come conference," Bynum said.

Rounding out the staff are sophomore Erica Tuck and freshmen Hannah Weaver and Katie Whetstone.

"Erica is looking to be our number two," Bynum said. "She's gotten a lot more consistent since this fall and we'll definitely have a good one-two punch with her and Claudia. We'll look to the underclassman to contribute, get their innings and gain some experience." 

Behind the plate will be a trio of catchers: junior Kendall Hooper, sophomore Mekenzie Weems and newcomer Chelsea Burgess.

During her Golden Eagle career, Hooper has seen action in 64 games initially being utilized as a pinch runner or hitter. After her freshman campaign, Hooper found her way into the starting lineup for 38 contests, contributing the team's highest slugging percentage at .410. In the off-season Hooper has hit the weight room hard and it paid off when she was awarded the All-American Strength and Conditioning Athlete of the Year by National Strength and Conditioning Association.

Newcomer Chelsea Burgess adds another dimension to the Golden Eagles as the transfer helped Chattanooga State win the NJCAA National Championship. "Burgess and Hooper have done a really good job of leading this team vocally and especially on offense."

Weems should fill in behind the plate on occasion, but is currently battling an injury and could find herself redshirting her sophomore season.

Infield

There will be many times that you will see Tech's entire senior class in the Golden Eagle infield during 2013. Around the horn, that group includes twin sisters Brittney and Chanelle Spalding anchoring the corners with Melody Christian seeing action as a back-up second baseman.

Brittney Spalding should continue to be a steady presence for the Golden Eagles at the hot corner. She fielded the position for the past four seasons, recording 72 putouts and 144 assists for a .939 fielding percentage. "Brittney brings a lot of the energy to the team. She keeps the team up as the ups and downs of the game don't affect her. She keeps everyone focused, keeps everyone talking, and with her on the corner, she's a great asset to the younger players that will be playing infield."

Brittney's sister, Chanelle, looks to build upon a stellar junior campaign for her final season in a Golden Eagle uniform. Last season, Chanelle recorded a team-high 416 putouts defensively, but also provided 26 runs, 48 base hits and 14 RBIs. "If Chanelle keeps hitting the way she's been hitting, she's going to have a fantastic year. She's just awesome at the plate. Just like Brittney, she keeps her teammates energized."

Several other players may see time on the dirt, including freshman Courtney Fry at second base and sophomore Hannah Eldridge. "Those two are going to be new in the middle, but they've done a really good job of talking and being a presence while making that transition."

Outfield

Tech's outfield will be one of the team's strengths in 2013. "We've got speed in all three positions. It's going to be hard for any ball to drop out there," Bynum said.

Golden Eagle senior Melody Christian played the majority of last season in centerfield and will be relied upon to anchor the trio of outfielders.  "Melody is definitely our go-to fielder for the year."

Angi Sakamoto will also return to the grass, but injury may delay her presence in the beginning of the season. "Only time will tell when she will be back in full swing, but she's really working towards that," Bynum said.

Schedule

The Golden Eagles are slated to go up against 35 different teams this season, and host 15 home games at the Tech Softball Field. The Golden Eagles will open up the 2013 schedule with five tournaments across the southern part of the country before making their way back to Cookeville for their home opener, March 23.

"Our schedule is pretty good this year. We don't have a lot of mid-week games this season, which means we should be refreshed and energized on the weekend. It gives us a little bit more down time to work on things and harness in on the fundamentals. It's going to be a tough schedule, but hopefully we can come out with quite a few wins this season."

Overview

The Golden Eagles were picked to finish second in the East Division in Ohio Valley Conference preseason polls.

"We have a great group of kids that are going to make the best of the experience that they were handed," Bynum said. "In a lot of ways, I think it has brought the girls closer together and really bonded them as a team. I'm really looking forward to a really fun year."