EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WFIE) -University of Southern Indiana Softball gets its second crack at opening the 2020 season this weekend as the No. 21 Screaming Eagles compete in The Cottrell Foundation Royal Blue Classic in Dahlonega, Georgia.
USI, which saw its season-opener against Lincoln Memorial University last Friday in Harrogate, Tennessee, get cancelled due to snow and frigid temperatures, begins this weekend’s slate Friday at 11 a.m. when it takes on Southern Wesleyan University at 11 a.m. (CST).
The Eagles also play former regional opponent Gannon University Friday at 1 p.m. before taking on tournament host and No. 16 University of North Georgia Saturday at 3 p.m. in a rematch of the 2018 NCAA II Softball Championship first-round game that saw the Eagles upset the then No. 1 Nighthawks, 1-0.
USI finishes the weekend with a pair of games against No. 8 West Chester University, the first of which is slated for Saturday at 5 p.m. and the second, which is slated for Sunday at 9 a.m.
USI Softball Notes
• Weather claims opening day. USI Softball saw its opening-day doubleheader against Lincoln Memorial cancelled due to snow and frigid temperatures in the Harrogate, Tennessee area.
• About this week’s Opposition: Southern Wesleyan is 2-0 to begin the year after going 22-20 a year ago. Sophomore utility player Lydia Clanton leads the Warriors’ returnees after hitting .389 with seven home runs and 34 RBIs in 2019. Gannon begins the year with its game against USI after going 30-16 overall and 14-6 in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference a year ago. The former GLIAC member is picked to finish first in the PSAC West Division this year after returning senior pitcher Madi Beining, a 2019 All-PSAC honoree. North Georgia is off to a 5-1 start after defeating McKendree University, 14-1, and falling to Lenoir-Rhyne University, 1-0, this past Sunday in Dahlonega, Georgia. Senior pitcher Kylee Smith was the 2018 Schutt Sports/NFCA Division II Player of the Year as a sophomore and is a three-time All-American after leading the nation in ERA a year ago. West Chester also begins its season this weekend after magical 2019 season that saw the Golden Rams go 40-22 overall and advance to the NCAA II Softball Championship in Denver, Colorado. The Golden Rams return five All-PSAC honorees from last year, including pitchers Reilly Gearhart and Maegen Kavanagh.
• Eagles open 2020 in NFCA Top 25. USI Softball begins the 2020 season in a tie for No. 21 in the NFCA Division II Top 25 Preseason Coaches’ Poll. The Eagles are one of two GLVC teams in the Top 25 and one of three being recognized by the NFCA. Indianapolis is ranked No. 12, while Missouri-St. Louis is receiving votes.
• Tough slate. The Eagles’ schedule, as usual, is littered with quality opponents, including eight games against teams that are either ranked inside the top 20 of the NFCA Division II Top 25 Preseason Coaches’ Poll and another three games against teams that are receiving votes.
• GLVC coaches predict third-place finish for Eagles. USI has been picked to finish third in the GLVC this year according to the league’s preseason coaches’ poll. Indianapolis was picked to win the conference, while defending GLVC champion Missouri-St. Louis was predicted to finish second.
• Eagles looking to continue NCAA run. The Eagles enter 2020 in search of their sixth consecutive appearance in the NCAA II Tournament and its seventh in the last eight years. USI won back-to-back NCAA II Midwest Region titles in 2017 and 2018 before capturing the 2018 national championship.
• Leonhardt returns for senior season. Three-time All-American pitcher Jennifer Leonhardt returns for her senior season to lead the Eagles in the circle. Leonhardt enters the 2020 campaign as USI’s all-time leader in career wins (76) and strikeouts (711). She also is tied for first all-time with 33 career complete-game shutouts, ranks fourth in complete games (76) and innings pitched (662.0), and begins the 2020 season ranked sixth in career ERA (1.78). Offensively, Leonhardt is tied for 11th all-time at USI in hit-by-pitches (9) and 12th in triples (5).
• Post-season awards. Leonhardt collected NFCA and D2CCA second-team All-America honors as a junior in 2019, while Claire Johnson earned third-team NFCA All-America honors and honorable-mention D2CCA All-America accolades during her final year with the Eagles. Additionally, Leonhardt was named the USI/ Old National Bank Female Student Athlete of the Year as well as first-team Academic All-America and GLVC Scholar Athlete of the Year.
• Leonhardt named GLVC Pitcher of Year. Leonhardt was named the GLVC Pitcher of the Year for the first time in her career last spring. Leonhardt posted a 19-7 overall record, four saves, a 1.36 ERA, a .189 opponent batting average, 11 complete-game shutouts and 215 strikeouts during the regular-season. She went 10-4 in GLVC-only play with a 0.92 ERA and 128 strikeouts.
• Returning All-GLVC honorees. Leonhardt was a unanimous first-team All-GLVC honoree in 2019, while junior outfielder Alicia Webb was a third-team All-GLVC honoree during her second year in a USI uniform. Graduated seniors Claire Johnson and Caitlyn Bradley also garnered All-League honors. Johnson was a unanimous first-team selection at second base, while Bradley earned third-team honors as a utility-pitcher.
• Senior class. USI’s senior class—Leonhardt, shortstop Taylor Ricketts and outfielder Allison Schubert—has accounted for a 122-58 overall record, 53-27 in GLVC play; and begins the season 39 wins shy of the 2018 class for the most (161) in program history. Last year’s senior class finished with a 157-79 overall record and was 77-36 in GLVC play.
• Schubert looks to get back to 2018 numbers. Schubert hit .274 with seven doubles, five home runs and 21 RBIs as a junior. Not bad numbers, but when the senior is looking to get back to the numbers she put up as a sophomore during USI’s national championship run in 2018 when she hit .340 with 14 doubles, a triple, 11 home runs and 51 RBIs. The 2018 All-Midwest Region honoree became the seventh player in program history to hit 10-or-more home runs in a single season and the fifth player to drive in at least 50 RBIs. She enters the 2020 season tied for ninth all-time at USI in career home runs (18) and 18th in career RBIs (81).
• Ricketts gives Eagles consistent presence. Ricketts has been a staple at shortstop for the Eagles throughout her first three years in a USI uniform. The senior, who hit .262 with six doubles, a triple and 12 RBIs a year ago, has started 119 of USI’s 120 games at shortstop during her career with the Eagles.
• Webb looks to build on strong sophomore showing. Junior outfielder Alicia Webb looks to build upon her breakout season from a year ago. Webb hit .327 with seven doubles, four triples and 21 RBIs as a sophomore in 2019 and hit .345 in GLVC-only games.
• Hitting streaks. Webb brings a two-game hitting streak into the 2020 season, while Leonhardt and Schubert each had a hit in USI’s final game of the 2019 campaign. Leonhardt had a team-best nine-game hitting streak last year, while Johnson and Ricketts each had recorded eight-game hitting streaks last season.
Courtesy: USI Athletics