BARBOURVILLE, Ky. - After a year of growing pains on the field in 2013, the Union College softball team looks to get back to its winning ways in 2014, as an experienced group of Bulldogs opens its season this week.
One person who went through as much adversity as any during the 2013 season was head coach Becky Bishop, who was thrust into the head coaching role a mere week before the season began. After a season of ups and downs, the Bulldogs found their groove in the AAC Tournament, winning three games before bowing out to eventual NAIA World Series participant Reinhardt (Ga.).
Now, with a year under her belt, Bishop looks to lead the Bulldogs to a bounce back season in 2014 after a tough 2013 campaign.
"As much as I tried to help the girls grow and mature [last season], I had to take a step back and see where we were," said Bishop. "I had a lot to do it a little amount of time and it was difficult. But, the girls were so resilient and their energy helped drive me last season."
In the circle, the Bulldogs will be led by three returnees - seniors Katie Perkins and Rachel Cogdill and sophomore Gianna Schauer. Perkins, who was the teams ace last season winning eight games, while posting a 3.37 ERA on her way to All-AAC honors, will be slow to return in the early part of the season after suffering an injury during fall workouts.
Because of this, two newcomers will have a huge role. One, junior Natalie Morrow, who transfers into the program from Southwestern Oregon Community College, and the second, local product Megan Baldwin, who prepped at nearby North Laurel High School in London. Both will play dual roles on the pitching staff, as they will each start games for Union, as well as come out of the Bulldog bullpen.
Bishop looks for the entire pitching staff to be marginally improved in 2014, as she gives total credit to the transformation of the unit to assistant coach Hannah Griffin, who joined the program in August.
Behind the plate catching for Union will be a new face, as Cameron Campbell moved on from the program after starting all 45 games last season. Sophomore Andrea Foster looks to fill the role this season, as she transferred into the Bulldog program from NCAA Division II member Lincoln Memorial (Tenn.) in the fall.
Another familiar name to Bulldog fans that will see time catching will be junior Jamie Cyrus - who has primarily played at first base in her first two years in the program - will move into the designated player and backup catcher role in 2014. Last season, Cyrus batted .305 and smacked a school record seven home runs, three of which came in a win at Bryan (Tenn.) that tied an NAIA record.
The Bulldog infield will once again be anchored by junior shortstop Ashley Wojnowski, a two-time All-AAC selection and career .358 hitter. The rest of the infield, however, will be slightly different that it was a season ago.
At third, freshman Tiffanie Moore takes over the hot corner from departing senior Autumn Greenwell. Meanwhile at second, a crop of players will see playing time in the early part of the season, as three players have emerged to take over. First, sophomore Amanda Cupp, who played in 35 games last season. Second, senior Alissa Hampton, who played in 44 games a season ago and knocked in 21 RBI. And third, freshman McKenna Brown, who has impressed Bishop in preseason practices. All are expected to see playing time throughout the year.
Finally at first, sophomore Erin Cooper will take over, as Bishop expects big things from the Alcoa, Tenn. native after an impressive offseason of workouts. Fellow sophomore Hope Frisch will back-up Cooper at the position, as Frisch logged playing time in 29 games last season.
Bishop looked to improve the outfield in the offseason and she may have done so, as a talented group will serve as the last level of defense.
In center, sophomore Danielle Borum returns after earning All-AAC honors at the position in her freshman year a season ago after batting .326 in 45 starts, (she also hit five homers). In left, freshman Chandler Overton takes over, a player that Bishop described as a fast, solid defender. And, finally in right, junior Brianne Bowling will start. Another quick player, Bowling transferred into the Union program in the offseason from the same Junior College as Morrow.
The Bulldogs open their season on Tuesday, as they host rival Cumberlands (Ky.) at Union Field in a doubleheader. The DH is the first of nine double-dips set at home in the first month of the season, with the Bulldogs only hitting the road twice (Feb. 18 at Cumberland (Tenn). and Feb. 25 at Campbellsville (Ky.).
Appalachian Athletic Conference play kicks off the month of March, as Union travels to Virginia Intermont on the first for a conference DH. In AAC play, will host Tennessee Wesleyan (Mar. 18), Reinhardt (Ga.) (Mar. 24), Bryan (Tenn.) (Mar. 26), Columbia (S.C.) (Mar. 29) and Point (Ga.) (Apr. 12) in conference doubleheaders at Union Field.
Also, Union will host 16 games in the month of March at home and just four in April, with the home season coming to an end on April 14th against Campbellsville. The regular season will end for the Bulldogs a few days later on the road at Lindsey Wilson on April 17. The season will culminate at the 2014 AAC Tournament which will be played once again at Domtar Park in Kingsport, Tenn. from Apr. 22-25.
To view the entire 2014 softball schedule, click here.
In the preseason AAC Coaches Poll, Union was picked eighth overall, a position Bishop does not see the team ending their season, as a more experienced and talented group of Bulldogs will look to be vastly improved in 2014.
"Last year, we just could not finish games, so our record didn't really show what kind of talent we had," added Bishop. "We didn't put the work in last year. But, this year we've had a complete fall practice, so we are where we need to be. I feel fantastic about it. The girls are coming more together as a team this year and it's overall going much more smoothly than I ever would've thought.
"We are just going to take things one game at a time. We're going to play a challenging schedule, so we're going to play the level of competition we need to play to get ready for the [AAC] Tournament at the end of the year."