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Softball Heads To Woo Pig Fastpitch Classic

Courtesy: Drake Athletics
         
Release: February 27, 2014
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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The Drake University softball team heads to the Woo Pig Fastpitch Classic hosted by the University of Arkansas for four games. Drake takes on Louisiana Tech and Arkansas on Friday, Feb. 28 at 12:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., respectively. Saturday the Bulldogs will play Stephen F. Austin at 9 a.m. with their final game that day determined by the results of their first three tournament games. A fifth game originally scheduled for Sunday morning has been cancelled due to forecasted bad weather in the area.

LAST TIME OUT

Drake (2-13) played six games in four days in Tempe, Ariz., including two meetings with No. 4 Arizona State. The Bulldogs battled the national powerhouse before dropping both, but did earn wins over Idaho State and Seton Hall. Freshman outfielder Megan Sowa (Gurnee, Ill.) started all six games, hitting .333 with three runs batted in and four runs scored. Senior Amy Pierce (Olathe, Kan.) batted .409 with three doubles and a .545 slugging percentage. Fellow senior Liz Buck (Overland Park, Kan.) recorded five hits in Tempe as she leads the team this season in batting average at .345.

ABOUT THE OPPONENTS

Louisiana Tech (6-8)

Louisiana Tech enters the Woo Pig Classic winners in four out of its previous five games. Hailey Winter and Pauline Tufi are batting .367 and .341, respectively. Winter has blasted two home runs, while Tufi leads the team in runs batted in with 12. Mike Montgomery is in his second season as head coach of the Bulldogs.

No. 24 Arkansas (13-3)

Arkansas moved into the No.24 spot in the ESPN/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 poll this week. After starting the season 2-3, the Razorbacks have ripped off 11 straight wins. Grace Moll logs the majority of time in the circle for Arkansas as she owns a stellar 6-1 mark and a 1.88 ERA with four complete games. Mike Larabee was hired to lead the Arkansas program prior to the 2009 season and has guided the Razorbacks to back-to-back appearances in NCAA Regional finals during the past two seasons.

Stephen F. Austin (7-9)

The Ladyjacks edged Texas Southern, 4-0, Wednesday night to snap a two-game skid. Stephen F. Austin has three players with three or more home runs and 14 or more runs batted in. Gay McNutt is in her fifth season in charge of the program.

UP NEXT

Drake closes out its regular season tournament slate at the Mizuno Classic hosted by Oklahoma State, March 7-9. The Bulldogs have a contest scheduled with conference mate Missouri State, two games with Minnesota and two with Oklahoma State. Drake starts MVC play the following weekend at Illinois State, March 15-16.

DRAKE PICKED THIRD

The Bulldogs have been picked third in the Missouri Valley Conference’s annual preseason poll, the conference office announced in January. Northern Iowa, the defending MVC tournament champion, was unanimously voted number one followed by Illinois State with 83 points. Drake tallied 82 points.

PREVIEWING THE BULLDOGS

Head coach Rich Calvert has an experienced squad in his 12th season leading the Drake University softball program. Calvert, the winningest coach in Drake history, has five seniors and five juniors along with two sophomores and four freshmen on the 2014 roster. The Bulldogs went 29-20 in 2013 with eight games cancelled due to bad weather, but still finished second in the Missouri Valley Conference with a 14-7 mark in conference action.

Four players who earned all-MVC first-team honors last season, Jordan Gronewold (Carlisle, Iowa), Hayley Nybo (Minnetonka, Minn.), Amy Pierce (Olathe, Kan.) and Nicole Randel (Alpine, Calif.) along with second-team honoree Rebekah Schmidt (Cottage Grove, Minn.) return for the Bulldogs.

Gronewold and Schmidt once again give Drake a formidable rotation in the circle. Gronewold had a team-high 17 wins a year ago and also contributed at the plate hitting .299 with four home runs, eight doubles and 22 runs batted in. In her senior season she will try to ascend in several career pitching statistical categories in program history and will also see time in right field when not in the circle. Schmidt tallied 12 wins last season along with a team-low 2.27 earned run average and a team-high 148 strikeouts. She added an MVC-best eight saves along with three home runs and 12 RBI at the plate. Sophomore Mariah McKinnon (Oxford, Iowa), who made 11 appearances in her first season, rounds out the rotation.

Pierce had an outstanding junior campaign hitting .359 and leading the team in runs scored with 49 and stolen bases with 26. The Olathe, Kan., native started every game at shortstop blasting nine home runs with 27 RBI and was named the Howlett Award winner as Drake’s top female athlete of the year. She is just three stolen bases away from the top career mark in Drake history and has a shot to end her career number one all-time in hits. Pierce had 60 hits last season and is 64 away from Kris Cox’s school record of 221.

Nybo, who has started every game in her Drake career, returns to third base where along with Pierce, they give the Bulldogs a solid left side of the infield. Nybo has knocked out 19 home runs and driven in 81 runs in her first two years to already be amongst the all-time leaders in Drake history. Freshman Kaitlyn Finneran (Morrison, Ill.) will see time at the hot corner in her first year.

Senior Liz Buck (Overland Park, Kan.) and junior Zeah Peterson (Baxter, Iowa) will share time at first base this spring. Buck had just five errors last year, while Peterson has been the backup catcher the past two seasons.

Junior Laura Brewer (Waukee, Iowa) hit .336 with eight doubles and 15 RBI last year primarily at first base and the designated player position. Brewer will shift to second base in 2014, while sophomore Chelsea Blaylock (Des Moines, Iowa) provides depth up the middle.

Senior Cortney Wood (Alburnett, Iowa) started 43 games at catcher for Drake in her first season after transferring from Indian Hills Community College. Wood hit .272 with three home runs and 19 RBI a year ago and will once again guard the plate. Freshman Ashlie Chambers (Ankeny, Iowa), who helped Ankeny capture the 2013 Iowa Class 5A title, will be Drake’s backup catcher and utility infielder.

Randel returns to left field after a standout junior year in which she hit a team-leading .373 with seven home runs and a team-high 41 RBI, which is the third best single season total in program history. Junior Sarah Ryan (Mount Vernon, Iowa) will patrol centerfield for the Bulldogs, while freshmen Maddie Hooyman (Trenton, Mo.) and Megan Sowa (Gurnee, Ill.) will see time at the corner outfield spots.

Calvert has a pair of former Drake standouts on his coaching staff in Nicole Wood and Tina DeAngelo. Wood, who played for the Bulldogs from 2004-05, is in her eighth season as an assistant, while DeAngelo (Zuccolo) is in her first year as a volunteer assistant. DeAngelo was a standout pitcher that helped Drake capture back-to-back MVC titles in 1994 and 1995 to qualify for its first-ever NCAA Tournament. Kasey Griffith, who played at SIU-Edwardsville and Dallas Center Grimes, returns for her second season as a volunteer coach.

The Bulldogs start their 2014 campaign on Feb. 7 at the Rosemont Rumble hosted by Loyola and UIC in Chicago, Ill., with a contest against IUPUI. Drake will not play Loyola, which joined the MVC in July, 2013, at this season-opening tournament. Instead the Bulldogs face 2013 NCAA Tournament qualifier Central Michigan twice and close the weekend with a game against Western Illinois.

Drake will travel to four additional tournaments with a trip to Baylor’s Getterman Classic (Feb. 14-16) up next with games against 2013 NCAA Tournament participants, Baylor and UAB, along with Lipscomb, East Carolina and Iowa. After the tournament in Waco, Texas, the Bulldogs head to Tempe, Ariz. for six games, including two contests against Arizona State, which advanced to the 2013 Women’s College World Series. The next weekend the team heads to the Woo Pig Classic, where it opens against host Arkansas, a 2013 NCAA Tournament qualifier. The Bulldogs final regular season tournament will be in Stillwater, Okla., for two games with Oklahoma State and two games with Minnesota.

Drake starts the conference slate with a visit to Illinois State before hosting its home opener against Southern Illinois on March 22. Former MVC-rival Creighton, now a member of the Big East Conference, travels to Des Moines on March 26, then Drake visits Loyola (March 29). The Bulldogs have 15 home games at Ron Buel Field including annual matchups against in-state foes, Iowa State (April 9) and Northern Iowa (April 23). The 2014 MVC tournament will be hosted by Illinois State in Normal, Ill., May 8-10.

This will be the 39th season of intercollegiate competition for the Drake softball program.

DRAKE ADDS THREE IN 2014 RECRUITING CLASS

The Bulldogs inked Nicole Newman (Madison, Wis.), Kailee Smith (Murrieta, Calif.) and Kelsey Wright (Olathe, Kan.) to National Letters of Intent this past November, 2013.

Newman, a pitcher and first baseman from Madison La Follette High School, went 15-4 with a 0.44 earned run average and 311 strikeouts in the circle for the Lancers her junior season. She earned first team all-state honors and was named the Gatorade Wisconsin Player of the Year and the Wisconsin State Journal/Wisconsin PrepZone.com Area Player of the Year. Newman also plays basketball and earned several honors last season on the hardwood after averaging 18.1 points and 11.6 rebounds per game.

Smith, a versatile player who has logged time at pitcher, first base and in the outfield, is from Murrieta, Calif. A three-year letterwinner for Paloma Valley High School, she earned All Inland Valley honors her junior season after hitting .406 with six home runs and recording a 1.44 ERA in the circle.

Rounding out the class is Wright from Olathe Northwest High School who hit .581 with a .805 slugging percentage last season on her way to being named first-team all-state. A three-year letterwinner in the infield for the Ravens she helped Northwest capture the Kansas 6A state championship her freshman season.

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