The 2011 softball season is right around the corner, and according to the preseason chatter, half of Georgia Southern’s seniors are the best in the Southern Conference at what they do.
Brianna Streetmon was tabbed as the league’s preseason Pitcher of the Year after winning the award in 2009 and 2010, and Megen Smith, who also happens to pitch, was selected as the preseason Player of the Year after GSU’s Nina Iduate won the award in 2010.
A preseason award like that means Smith is more than just an arm.
"She’ll also see time at first, third, outfield — she’s just they type of player you try to have on the field any way you can," said GSU coach Maggie Johnson.
Smith tallied eight wins in the circle in 2010, and led the SoCon in home runs with 18. She drove in 47 runs and hit .322.
Three of the last four years, the Lady Eagles finished as the runners up in the SoCon Tournament, and this year, Streetmon and Smith lead a group of four seniors.
"They’re very close personally," Johnson said, "and I think the two of them together are trying to grab the team, pull them with them and work towards doing big things this year."
The two senior pitchers are joined in the circle by a pair of freshmen — Sarah Purvis and Allie Miles — and Johnson is pleased with the variety the four pitchers provide.
"We have more of a mix," Johnson said. "It’s actually been good for our hitters, too, because they’ve been able to see more in the live pitching getting ready for the season. One of our freshmen, Allie, has a great changeup. The fact that we have a mixture of what we can do is going to be one of our strengths this year."
The infield will look a lot different this season. Iduate, who played her final season a year ago, was not only the team’s shortstop but also the most consistent hitter batting .450 in 55 games.
The only returning infielder will be junior second baseman Hanna Ennis. The rest of the infield will be determined greatly on who’s producing at the plate.
"Honestly, it’s going to come down to who’s hitting," said Johnson. "I have in my mind what we’re going to do, but it’s never set, especially early on, and the girls know that. We start the game with offense then finish with the defensive lineup. They know if they hit, once we get some games on the board, they’ll know where they stand."
In a game that is already swiftly paced, the Eagles like to make their opponents try to keep up.
"We’re aggressive. On defense we never sit back and wait, we go for the lead out, we communicate ahead of time and make sure we’re focused. At the plate, we’re the same way. We try to hit early in the count, we try to use what we know about pitchers when we get ahead and take advantage. We work on hitting the ball hard and with power. If you hit the ball hard, you’ve got a chance. We try not to get cheated at the plate."
Johnson likes to make sure everything the Eagles do is done with a purpose.
"Otherwise, it’s like you’re out there going through the motions," said the GSU coach. "Those girls work hard. If they’re willing to do that and sweat and bleed, and all the things they do every day, we’re going to give it everything."
The season opens Saturday at 11 a.m. as Georgia Southern welcomes Mercer and Radford for the Spring Hill Suites 2011 Eagle Classic at Eagle Field.
Mercer and Radford will play the first game, and the first pitch of GSU’s season will take place at 1:30 p.m. against Mercer.
The tournament concludes Sunday, and after that, it’s a long, three-tournament road trip for the Eagles. They will play a two-game set at Georgia State in Atlanta and travel for tournaments at Florida State, Tennessee and Auburn.
"If you can make it through that, and hopefully find some success, when you get into conference play it’s a little more low key I guess you could say as far as the travel goes," Johnson said. "You can concentrate more on the game."
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.