EVANSVILLE, IN (WFIE) - The 2018 season is here for the University of Evansville softball team as it heads to the Mardi Gras Classic in Lafayette, Louisiana to begin the year. Evansville will take on Samford, Louisiana, UIC, Iowa and Eastern Illinois in the first weekend of action.
"Our team is excited for the season to be here," Aces head coach Mat Mundell said. "I am anxious to see what this team is made of when we go out and play another opponent. This is also a great test to begin the year; Louisiana is one of the toughest places in the country to play."
Evansville returns 11 players from last season and brings nine newcomer into the fray.
Reigning MVC Newcomer of the Year Brittany Hay will have a slightly different role with the Aces this season; after spending her junior year at short, Hay will be in the outfield for UE this season. Hay led the Aces with an overall .309 batting average, but upped that to .372 in Valley play. The native of Georgetown, Ill. scored 36 runs in 2017, more than double the tally of anyone else on the squad; she was also 16-of-19 in steals.
In the circle, Morgan Florey led the MVC in strikeouts last season and continued to be an offensive force and was recognized by the MVC as she was named a Preseason All-Conference player. Florey was UE's top power hitter, pacing the team with 9 homers and 32 runs batted in; she hit .292 on the season and drew 21 walks, second on the team. In the circle, Florey tossed 172 1/3 innings on her way to a league-leading 194 strikeouts. She went 14-11 on the season and finished third in the conference with a 1.99 ERA.
Friday's opener pits UE against Samford, who went 25-36 last season. On Friday evening, UE takes on defending Sun Belt Champion Louisiana, who is ranked 22nd entering the season. The Ragin Cajuns were 47-8 last season and played in the Baton Rouge Regional of the NCAA Tournament.
Another NCAA Tournament squad is on tap Saturday when the Aces match up against UIC. The Flames went 39-22 in 2017 and won the Horizon League Tournament on their way to the Eugene, Ore. Regional. In their tournament appearance, they defeated Missouri. Saturday's finale pits UE against Big Ten member Iowa who went 19-32 last season while Sunday's contest has Evansville taking on Eastern Illinois (28-21 in 2017).
The 2018 team preview wraps up today with a look at the infielders.
"We are very excited about this group; they are very young and we will see a whole new starting infield from last season," Mundell said.
Alex Latoria, a redshirt sophomore, will see time at first base while Bailee Porter and Allison Daggett are battling for the second base spot.
"Alex has worked very hard and we are excited about what she brings offensively," Mundell explained. "Both of our girls at second have looked good so far, both will see a lot of playing time."
At short, freshman Lindsay Renneisen will be taking over for Brittany Hay, who makes the move to the outfield. McKenzie Johnson brings experience at third and is battling freshman Elyse Hickey for that position.
"Lindsay brings a calming presence and will have a big impact in our lineup," Mundell added. "The battle at third is also going to be a good one. McKenzie has done well for us in the past and is continuing to get healthy. She and Elyse will each see time at that spot. Overall, this has a chance to be a strong group for us going forward."