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Softball  . 

South Carolina Softball Preview 2024

by Brad Muller, Spurs & Feathers

After winning 40 games last season and returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2019, South Carolina Softball got back to where it wants to be. Now, they’re not ready to stand pat. The Gamecocks want more.

“It was imperative that we got back to the postseason,” said head coach Beverly Smith, who enters her 14th season leading the Gamecocks and has taken the program to the NCAA Tournament eight times. “Being back last year really renewed their confidence in their ability.

“I enjoyed this past fall. The returners carried over their success and confidence from last season. We’ve also added an excellent group of freshmen and a highly touted group of transfers.”

That group of transfers is led by former Stanford Second Team All-American pitcher Alana Vawter (pictured), who was a three-time All-PAC 12 selection and led the Cardinal to the Women’s College World Series last year after going 21-8 with a 1.81 earned run average. She’ll fill a big void left with the graduation of First Team All-SEC fireballer Donnie Gobourne.

“Watching her pitch this fall, all you can think about is that she is a true professional,” Smith said. “She moves and spots the ball well! It’s really fun to watch her throw the ball on a dime and then change speeds. To be able to bring in an All-American arm is a great feeling.”

Vawter won’t have to be a one-woman show, however. The Gamecocks return fifth-year senior Bailey Betenbaugh (9-3, 2.41 ERA) and sophomore Jori Heard (6-3, 3.71 ERA), while also adding talented freshmen Sage Mardjetko, who was named USA Today’s National Softball Player of the Year, and Reganne Bennett, who is a two-way player that was named Michigan’s Gatorade High School Player of the Year as a senior.

“Bailey had a really good year last year and comes back with a lot of confidence,” Smith said. “Jori Heard improved so much in the fall and will see a lot more innings. Reganne Bennett can hit and pitch, and Sage has been very impressive. She has been really tough for our hitters in the fall. She can throw everything; up, down, change of speeds, and she can throw both sides of the plate.”

Vawter fall 2023
“This team has the most outward confidence of any team I’ve coached in a while.”
Head Coach Beverly Smith

The Gamecocks are solid behind the plate with senior Jen Cummings (.276, .497 OBP, 3 HR, 26 RBI) and junior Giulia Desiderio (.252, 2 HR, 22 RBI) returning, and perhaps the most secure spots in the field are junior Brooke Blankenship (.300, 28 RBI, 11 SB) returning at shortstop (pictured at top of page) as well as senior Riley Blampied (.259, 7 HR, 42 RBI, 17 SB) in centerfield. Smith is excited about the competition and depth throughout the lineup.

“I think it’s a great thing that so many positions are up for grabs,” Smith said. “We brought in senior transfer Denver Bryant (Auburn, .319, 5 HR, 16 RBI) and freshman Karley Shelton. Both of those athletes can play anywhere in the infield. They were both working primarily at second and third. We also return (senior) Zoe Laneaux (.273, 3 HR, 22 RBI) as a third baseman.”

“We have eight seniors, and I think they are going to have a big year,” Smith said. “Players like Zoe Laneaux (pictured), Aniyah Black, and Jen Cummings all have that doubles-pop and RBI power that should make them very productive for us.”

There is also a lot of competition in the outfield.

“We have a lot of nice pieces to work with. In the outfield, we have the same problem in that we have a lot of really good athletes. We have (junior) Marissa Gonalez (.259, 5 HR, 26 RBI) returning, and (redshirt junior) Carlie Henderson is back and healthy this season after missing most of last year, and she looked really good in the fall. Transfers (redshirt junior) Bre Warren (Texas A&M) and (fifth-year senior) Kianna Jones (North Carolina) both had a nice fall. We’re very deep and experienced in the outfield.”

Laneaux 2023

The Gamecocks are also looking forward to the improvement of other players who have been in the program that could make a bigger impact in 2024.

“Watching this team this fall in terms of developing their personality and their swag has really been fun. I love the confidence they displayed in the fall. This is an older team, so we have a lot of experience. The exciting part is the way they’ve come together. This team has the most outward confidence of any team I’ve coached in a while. Now it’s about building that trust in the team and executing on game day.”

The Gamecocks open the 2024 season with the Carolina Classic at home on Friday, February 9. Click here for the full schedule.