March 1, 2012

2012 Softball Preview: Purple Raiders Eye OAC Crown

A veteran Mount Union softball team enters the 2012 campaign looking to contend for an Ohio Athletic Conference Championship and a return to the NCAA Tournament.

Head coach Sandy Douglas, who enters her 27th year in charge of Mount Union's softball program, is just two wins shy of 600 for her career and has led the Purple Raiders to six NCAA Tournament appearances, with the most recent coming in 2008.

"If we stay healthy, we should have a very successful season," Douglas said. "Our goal is to contend for an OACC title by reaching the conference tournament, and then go onto the NCAAs after that."

Seven starting position players and a pair of starting pitchers headline a squad that finished 20-17 a year ago after falling to regular season champion Ohio Northern in the double-elimination OAC Tournament. Despite having just a single senior on the roster, Douglas considers this an experienced group. The Raiders return four players who have earned at least two letters and four players who have earned all-conference honors during their careers.

Led by one of the elite starting duos in the OAC, the Raiders' will once again be fueled by their ability to limit opponent scoring. Lone senior Bre Willis (Navarre/Fairless) and junior Rachel McAninch (West Jefferson/West Jefferson) bring much experience to the pitcher's circle for the Raiders. A two-time All-OAC Honorable Mention selection, Willis had a 9-8 record in 21 appearances last season and finished fifth in the conference with 96 strikeouts. McAninch went 10-7 in 21 appearances last year while finishing in the top four in the conference in ERA (2.09), opponent batting average (.237), and strikeouts (100). She also has a pair of First Team All-OAC selections and the 2010 OAC Pitcher-of-the-Year on her collegiate resume. The dynamic duo has combined for 54 wins and 17 shutouts during their time at Mount Union.

Douglas knows that the Raiders must be more productive at the plate if they are to attain the goals they have set. Mount Union was ninth in the conference in runs per game (4.4), last in team batting average (.270), and struck out more than any other team (159) last season.

This year's squad should be a stronger overall hitting team that also possesses more power than a year ago. Douglas cites "more consistent hitting throughout the year" as one of the keys to this season.

Junior Kristen Gromes (Navarre/Fairless) and sophomore Shelby Carmichael (Dalton/Dalton) will be looked upon to lead the Raider lineup. Gromes, who was a First Team All-OAC selection in her first year as a starter, had a .337 batting average and was the team's leader in runs (24), doubles (7), extra-base hits (9), walks (20), and on-base percentage (.460) last year. Carmichael was an All-OAC Honorable Mention selection during her freshman campaign when she hit .326 with three home runs and 14 RBI, while tying Gromes with a team-best nine extra-base hits.

Other returning starters include juniors Marissa Earl (Massillon/Massillon Washington), Alex Mayo (Greenville/Ansonia) and Rachel Jesso (Mount Pleasant, Pa./Mount Pleasant) and sophomores Brenna Longo (Moon, Pa./Moon) and Brittany Papp (Uniontown/Green).

This year's team captains are Gromes, Jesso, McAninch, and Willis. Gromes brings postseason tournament experience to the roster, as she was a starter on the Mount Union volleyball team that advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in the fall.

Freshmen Hannah Kopack (Westlake/Westlake), Kaylah Nieschwitz (Canton/St. Thomas Aquinas), Leigh Siedlak (Westerville/Westerville South), and Michelle Stiltner (White Lake, Mich./Lakeland) are among a group of  talented newcomers. Douglas expects several freshmen to play and make an immediate impact this season.

A challenging schedule awaits the Raiders, who begin the season on Sunday at the Rebel Spring Games in Kissimmee, Florida. Mount Union opens with a 9 am contest against No. 6 Cortland State (N.Y.), who finished fourth in last year's NCAA Tournament. In addition to a competitive slate of OAC games, Walsh, Trine, (Ind.), Malone, Case Western Reserve, and Ohio Wesleyan await the Raiders in non-conference matchups. The home opener is scheduled for Thursday, March 15th at 3 pm against Walsh at the 23rd Street Field in Alliance.

2012 Mount Union Softball Schedule

Date     Opponent     Location     Time/Status
March  
Sun   4     vs. Cortland State (N.Y.)     Kissimmee, Fla. - Rebel Spring Games     9:00 AM  
Sun   4     vs. St. Benedict (Minn.)     Kissimmee, Fla. - Rebel Spring Games     11:00 AM  
Mon   5     vs. Aurora (Ill.)     Kissimmee, Fla. - Rebel Spring Games     11:00 AM  
Mon   5     vs. Albion (Mich.)     Kissimmee, Fla. - Rebel Spring Games     1:00 PM  
Tue   6     vs. Methodist (N.C.)     Kissimmee, Fla. - Rebel Spring Games     11:00 AM  
Tue   6     vs. Emmanuel (Mass.)     Kissimmee, Fla. - Rebel Spring Games     1:00 PM  
Thu   8     vs. Beloit (Wis.)     Kissimmee, Fla. - Rebel Spring Games     3:00 PM  
Thu   8     vs. Simpson (Iowa)     Kissimmee, Fla. - Rebel Spring Games     5:00 PM  
Fri   9     vs. Thomas More (Ky.)     Kissimmee, Fla. - Rebel Spring Games     1:00 PM  
Fri   9     vs. Husson (Me.)     Kissimmee, Fla. - Rebel Spring Games     3:00 PM  
Sat   10     vs. Catholic (D.C.)     Kissimmee, Fla. - Rebel Spring Games     9:00 AM  
Sat   10     vs. Bluffton     Kissimmee, Fla. - Rebel Spring Games     11:00 AM  
Thu   15     Walsh     23rd Street Field     3:00 PM
Thu   15     Walsh     23rd Street Field     5:00 PM
Sat   17     Trine (Ind.)     23rd Street Field     2:00 PM
Sat   17     Trine (Ind.)     23rd Street Field     4:00 PM
Mon   19     at Malone     Canton, Ohio     3:00 PM  
Mon   19     at Malone     Canton, Ohio     5:00 PM  
Wed   21     Marietta *     23rd Street Field     1:00 PM  
Wed   21     Marietta *     23rd Street Field     3:00 PM  
Sat   24     at Muskingum *     New Concord, Ohio     1:00 PM  
Sat   24     at Muskingum *     New Concord, Ohio     3:00 PM  
Sat   31     Otterbein *     23rd Street Field     1:00 PM  
Sat   31     Otterbein *     23rd Street Field     3:00 PM  
April                  
Fri   6     Baldwin-Wallace *     23rd Street Field     1:00 PM
Fri   6     Baldwin-Wallace *     23rd Street Field     3:00 PM
Mon   9     Case Western Reserve     23rd Street Field     3:30 PM
Mon   9     Case Western Reserve     23rd Street Field     5:00 PM
Wed   11     at John Carroll *     University Heights, Ohio     3:30 PM
Wed   11     at John Carroll *     University Heights, Ohio     5:00 PM  
Sat   14     at Ohio Northern *     Ada, Ohio     1:00 PM  
Sat   14     at Ohio Northern *     Ada, Ohio     3:00 PM  
Tue   17     Capital *     23rd Street Field     3:30 PM  
Tue   17     Capital *     23rd Street Field     5:00 PM
Fri   20     at Ohio Wesleyan     Delaware, Ohio     3:30 PM
Fri   20     at Ohio Wesleyan     Delaware, Ohio     5:00 PM
Sat   21    

at Heidelberg *

    Tiffin, Ohio      1:00 PM
Sat   21    

at Heidelberg *

    Tiffin, Ohio     3:00 PM
Sat   28     at Wilmington *     Wilmington, Ohio     1:00 PM
Sat   28     at Wilmington *     Wilmington, Ohio     3:00 PM
Fri-Sat    4-5     OAC Tournament     TBA -- #1 Seed     TBA
Home games in bold
* OAC Conference Game
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