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Feb. 10, 2011

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Gamecock Softball Squawk Box: Opening Day

2011 Palmetto State Showdown Central

Gamecock Confidential
Get ready for 2011 by watching Gamecock Confidential, which takes you behind the scenes of South Carolina’s softball team as it prepares for its first season under new head coach Beverly Smith.
Episode 5
Episode 4 Episode 3
Episode 2 Episode 1

COLUMBIA, S.C. – A new chapter begins in South Carolina, as head coach Beverly Smith begins her first season at the helm of the Gamecock softball program. The 10th head coach in South Carolina softball history, Smith and the Garnet and Black begin their 38th year of intercollegiate softball on Fri., Feb. 11. The first game is against Charleston Southern at 3 p.m., as part of the 2011 Palmetto State Showdown.

The Gamecocks take on Furman and Coastal Carolina on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., respectively, while they close the tournament on Sunday at 5 p.m. against USC Upstate. Winthrop is also a part of the six-team field featuring some of the top teams in the state of South Carolina.

Infusion of Winning Personalities and Talent
A total of 10 newcomers joined the South Carolina roster this fall, including five from the junior college ranks. Four of those players competed in the NJCAA World Series at their two-year schools. Both Kylie Morin and Molly Brossart helped Yavapai College to the tourney while Kaela Jackson helped Chattanooga State there in 2010. Morin and Yavapai went in 2009 as well as Jackie Slawson and Spartanburg Methodist College. The fifth player, Cal Junior College Co-Player of the Year Samie Garcia, played in a super regional at Cerritos College during her only season at the level.

Coaches Also Know a Bit about Winning
The JUCO additions are not the only newcomers to the South Carolina softball program who know about winning. Both head coach Beverly Smith and assistant coach Janelle Breneman came to the Gamecocks from North Carolina, which has been ranked in the top 25 in each of the last five seasons, while the Tar Heels made NCAA Tournament appearances in eight years during Smith’s tenure. Calvin Beamon also knows a litle about winning, claiming crowns at all three of his amatuer stops. A high school state champion at Smoky Hill High School in Cherry Creek, Colo., Beamon won a JUCO title at the College of Southern Nevada and the College World Series during his year at Texas.

There’s Depth, A Lot of Depth
South Carolina’s softball roster this season is comprised of 23 student-athletes, possibly the largest in program history (still needs research). That depth, plus the versatility of the student-athletes, presents many options to head coach Beverly Smith this spring. Every position outside of catcher has at least three players on the depth chart, with some spots going as deep as nine.

Back to Bash Again
Laura Mendes has already made her way onto a handful of the Gamecocks all-time top-10 lists after three seasons in Columbia. Holding spots in hits per game, doubles per game and slugging percentage, the Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., native ranks as the top returning Gamecock hitter. Her powerful left-handed bat should once again anchor the lineup. She’s led South Carolina in hits, doubles and triples in each of the last two seasons, while she also led the Gamecocks in numerous other categories as a junior.

Steady Influence Behind The Plate
After earning the starting role during her freshman season, catcher P.J. Fulmer has been hard to remove from behind the plate. A solid defensive player, Fulmer has missed just two starts in the past two seasons. Last season, Fulmer threw out 20 percent of those attempting to steal, just off of her 23 percent mark of 2009. Among SEC catchers a year ago, Fulmer stood one passed ball behind the leaders, including 2010 SEC All-Defensive Team and 2011 Preseason All-SEC team member Megan Yocke of Kentucky.

Adding power to her game, Fulmer posted her best slugging and on-base percentage last season. Working with new assistant coach Calvin Beamon, Fulmer hopes to continue that improvement this spring.

Broyles Hoping to Recapture Magic
The start of last season was nothing short of amazing for now redshirt sophomore Audrey Broyles. Among the SEC leaders in strikeouts and ERA during the first month of 2010, a shoulder injury shut her down right as SEC play kicked off. Even after two ineffective starts to end the year, Broyles still managed to hold foes to a .161 batting average in 42.1 innings of work. Now back healthy, Broyles looks to recapture her role as the ace of the staff. As a freshman, Broyles won 10 games and saved three more.

Borchardt Back for Another Go in the Circle
in her first year at South Carolina, April Borchardt became a savior on the pitching staff. Primarily an outfielder during her freshman season at Northwest Florida State College, Borchardt went 14-4 for the Raiders as a sophomore before coming to Columbia. Last season, Borchardt led the Gamecocks in wins and ERA while tossing 75 innings. She may be used both as a speedy outfielder or as the relief ace again this season.

Outfield Full of Veterans
South Carolina’s projected starting outfield all have experience in one of the toughest conferences in the land. Junior Lauren Lackey has started from her first day on campus and brings her outstanding defense to center field this season after spending most of 2010 in right. Last year, she added seven outfield assists, tied for the most by a Gamecock over the past nine years. Also back is junior Kaitlin Westfall, who came on toward the end of last season to finish with the second-best batting average among the Gamecocks in SEC play. Rounding out the projected starters is sophomore Hannah Milks. Mainly an infielder as a freshman, Milks has been seen in right this spring, a year after ranking second on the team in on-base percentage and batting average in 2010.

Bringing In The Palmetto State’s Best
The Gamecocks have been very active recruiting the best from their own state. Joining the group of Palmetto State prep standouts that includes senior P.J. Fulmer, juniors Sam Arbaugh, Evan Childs and Kierstyn White and sophomore Hannah Milks are freshmen Chelsea Hawkins and Julie Sarratt. Both are fighting for time in the lineup, while Sarratt will also help in the circle. Also coming aboard this season are College of Charleston transfer Kelley Dillon and Spartanburg Methodist College grad Jackie Slawson. The nine South Carolina players on the Gamecock roster are the most in history, as the archives go back to 1981 currently. Anyone with information from earlier years is encouraged to call the South Carolina Athletic Media Relations Office at (803) 777-8017.

Sunshine State Flavor
The Gamecocks have players from all over the country, including at least one from 10 states. Behind South Carolina, Florida has the most players on the 2011 team, with one in each class now. Senior Laura Mendes leads the pack, with junior Kandyce Redondo and redshirt sophomore Audrey Broyles both in their third year on campus. Rounding out the Sunshine State quartet is freshman Dana Hathorn, who, hailing from Orlando, is the only player of the foursome not from the greater Palm Beach area.

Looking to Rebound
Kierstyn White returns for her third season in the Garnet and Black and looks to rebound after a tough sophomore season. One of the top pitchers in the history of South Carolina high school softball, White would like to return to her freshman form, when she went 9-4 with three saves in 86 innings of work.