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Pioneers to open 2018 season Tuesday afternoon

Pioneers to open 2018 season Tuesday afternoon

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The Tusculum softball team will rely on an infusion of youth to spark the Pioneers to a successful 2018 season, which begins Tuesday at home against Lees-McRae.

Head coach Julie Huebner begins her sixth season with a team that has no seniors and a whopping 11 freshman on its 22-player roster. With talent at all nine positions, the Pioneers are poised to exceed last year's 28-25 overall record and 10-10 finish in the South Atlantic Conference.

"We want to try and build off last year's late success, with focus on us blending as a team," said Huebner, who has compiled a 132-120 record in her first five seasons. "Defense has definitely been a focus for us in the preseason. Our goal is to figure out roles through the month of February while playing a challenging non-conference schedule, which we will use to prepare for a solid conference showing."

INFIELD
Junior Emily Hester (Kings Mountain, N.C.) will anchor the Pioneer lineup at first base, earning preseason second-team All-Conference honors. Hester started all 53 games last season, hitting .373 with 10 home runs and 49 runs batted in. Hester led the team in slugging percentage at .621 and set a single-season program record with 32 walks. Hester had 16 multi-hit games and 15 multi-RBI games, and enters the season with a career .314 average with 11 home runs and 77 RBIs, both ranking in the top 10 in program history.

Sophomore Sammie West (Maiden, N.C.) will take over as the everyday shortstop after seeing action in right field and second base as a freshman. West was named second-team All-SAC as she hit .386 with four home runs and 28 runs batted in as a freshman, leading the team with 45 runs scored and 19 doubles, along with four triples and 13 stolen bases. West had a 5-for-5 performance against Lenoir-Rhyne that tied the school single-game record for hits, and was named to the SAC All-Tournament team after going 5-for-10 with four runs scored.

Sophomore Taylor Johnson (Spring Hill, Tenn.) is expected to see action at both third base and catcher for the Pioneers after starting 53 games at shortstop last season. Johnson, a preseason second-team All-SAC honoree, hit .399 with eight home runs and 45 runs batted in as a freshman, including a team-high 20 multi-hit games and 12 multi-RBI games. Johnson, who had a 15-game hitting streak in midseason, reached base in 44 of the Pioneers' 53 games, and finished the season ranked eighth in the SAC in batting average.

Freshman Brittney Franse (Knoxville, Tenn.) will battle for the second base position with junior Michelle Miller (Meridian, Idaho). Franse was named All-District and All-Region at Powell High School, with 226 career hits, 254 stolen bases and a .475 batting average. Miller started 31 games for the Pioneers last year and hit .222 with 10 runs batted in, 11 runs scored and eight sacrifice bunts.

Another freshman, Anna Alloway (Louisville, Tenn.) should see time at third base as well for the Pioneers, having earned All-District and All-State honors at Maryville High School. Alloway had a career .438 average with 176 runs batted in during her prep career, including a .509 average with 63 runs batted in during her senior season.

OUTFIELD
Junior Taylor Battle (Chattanooga, Tenn.) will start in left field for the Pioneers, where she started 47 games last year and batted .209 with two home runs and seven runs batted in. Battle stole nine bases and had six multi-hit games for the Pioneers. She has 38 career stolen bases at Tusculum, which is tied for seventh-most in program history, and has a career average of .247 with 68 hits and 42 runs scored.

Junior Morgan Mahaffey (Belmont, N.C.) moved to center field last season and had a strong season defensively for the Pioneers, making zero errors in 75 chances including a pair of assists. At the plate, Mahaffey hit .242 with one home run and 16 runs batted in, along with 31 hits and 20 walks. Mahaffey also stole seven bases without being caught, and laid down eight successful sacrifice bunts. Mahaffey carries a career .230 average with 45 hits and 25 runs scored into the season.

Sophomore Delaney Guerrero (Elgin, S.C.) is the third Pioneer starter to change positions from last season, moving from third base to right field. Guerrero hit .277 with 36 hits, 12 RBIs and 25 runs scored as a freshman, ranking 28th in Division II in sacrifice bunts with 14 in 51 games. Guerrero had 10 multi-hit games, including three hits apiece against Union and Lenoir-Rhyne.

Additional outfield depth will be provided by junior Emily White (Milford, Mich.), along with freshman Tori West (Knoxville, Tenn.), Brittany Fletcher (Candler, N.C.), Sierra Hines (Hickory, N.C.) and Courtney Gibson (Conover, N.C.).

White was used primarily as a pinch-runner last season, appearing in 40 games and scoring 15 runs. West was a career .315 hitter at Farragut High School with 33 runs scored, Fletcher claimed All-Conference, All-Region and All-State honors at Enka High School after hitting .487 with 16 runs batted in last season. Hines was a three-time All-State selection and a four-time All-Conference pick while at St. Stephens High School, hitting 28 career home runs. Gibson was three-time All-State and four-time All-District at Bunker Hill High School.

CATCHERS
Johnson will see time behind the plate along with freshman Emma Casey (Mechanicsville, Va.), who earned All-Conference and All-Region honors after hitting .388 for Hanover High School as a senior. Freshman Marissa Henson (Rosman, N.C.) was an All-Conference and All-District player at Rosman High School, with a .556 batting average and 12 home runs as a senior.

PITCHERS
Junior Taylor Plemons (Knoxville, Tenn.) emerged as the Pioneers' number-one starter last season, finishing 13-14 with a 3.54 earned run average in 32 appearances (26 starts). Plemons threw 16 complete games and struck out 86 batters in 164 innings, throwing a three-hit shutout against Coker. Plemons has a 15-24 career record with a 4.25 earned run average in 230 1/3 innings, striking out 114 batters in 53 appearances (37 starts) with 19 complete games.

Sophomore Allison Pate (Wilson, N.C.) was able to resume pitching late last season and went 3-0 in seven appearances (two starts), striking out 15 batters and walking four in 18 innings of work. Pate threw a five-inning shutout against Milligan with seven strikeouts, and also hit .250 with a home run and three runs batted in.

Sophomore Lizzy Galloway (Troy, Alabama) will make her Pioneer debut this season along with freshmen Ivee Richesin (Philadelphia, Tenn.) and Gabby Williams (Woodstock, Ga.). Galloway last pitched at Alabama Southern CC in 2016 and had a 2.38 earned run average. Richesin was All-County and All-District at Loudon High School, while Williams pitched and played first base for River Ridge High School, and could see time at designated player as well. Freshman Ashley Scozzari (Mooresville, N.C.) is coming off an injury and could be ready to contribute by the start of conference play.

SCHEDULE
The Pioneers will play a 55-game regular season schedule against 28 opponents, 17 of which finished with winning records in 2017 and four that won their respective conference tournament championships. Eight of the Tusculum opponents participated in last year's NCAA Division II Softball Championship tournament. The season opener will be Tuesday at 2 p.m. against Lees-McRae, with the conference opener on Sunday, March 18 against Lees-McRae. The Pioneers will close the regular season on Sunday, April 22 at Milligan, with the SAC Tournament to be an eight-team, single-elimination format on April 27 and 28 at Anderson.

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