GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The Tusculum University softball team will embark upon the 2020 season this weekend (Feb. 1-2) as the Pioneers are set to traverse across South Carolina. The Orange and Black will play the Converse College Valkyries on Saturday in Spartanburg before heading to Orangeburg to face the Claflin University Panthers on Sunday.
The 2019 Pioneers went 22-20 and 8-12 in the South Atlantic Conference (SAC) while going an impressive 16-8 at Red Edmonds Field. Returning 13 letter-winners for this season's journey, Tusculum head coach Julie Huebner, the second-winningest softball skipper in program history, has added 10 newcomers to the team.
"Our program is very excited to get the 2020 season underway this weekend in South Carolina," said the eighth-year coach. "We return a lot of seasoned players who are committed to our program goals and have positioned themselves to lead Tusculum softball where we want to go. Our transfers and underclassman are eager to contribute and add immediate value as well. I feel with the mix of our experienced returners and influential newcomers we have the necessary pieces to be successful."
Following this weekend's South Carolina excursion, Tusculum will return home to Red Edmonds Field for a double-header series with Davis & Elkins on Feb. 8 and begin its conference slate at UVa-Wise on Feb. 25. For the first time since 2012, the Tusculum diamond will serve as hosts of the SAC Softball Tournament. The eight-team, single-elimination tournament will be held Apr. 24-25 in Greeneville.
Highlighting the recently released preseason All-Conference team was junior infielder Brittney Franse. The second-team selection started 40-of-41 games played for the Pioneers in her sophomore season, primarily at second base. The right-handed Knoxville, Tenn. native batted .320, slugged .340, and had an on-base percentage of .366. Academically, Franse was named to the Division II Athletic Directors Association (D2 ADA) Honor Roll.
Joining Franse as a returning middle infielder is Sammie West. West played in 40-of-42 games for the Pioneers, all as the starting shortstop. In her third year as a Pioneer, she finished with a batting clip of .300, a slugging percentage of .383, and an OBP of .381. West was tied first with two sacrifice flies, second on the team in walks (16), and tied for third in runs (21). She had seven multi-run games, nine with multiple hits, and two contests with more than one walk. West also joined her fellow infielder on the D2 ADA Honor Roll.
The Maiden, N.C. native enters her final year scattered across the TU career records: tied for second in on-base percentage (.416), tied sixth in walks (64), tied seventh with four sacrifice flies, tied 10th in stolen bases (27), and 11th in batting average (.327).
Splitting time between third base and catching, Taylor Johnson spent the latter half of the season as the primary fielder covering the hot corner. She started every games for the Pioneers while batting for a .302 average, slugged .512, and had an on-base percentage of .357. Johnson led the team with 84 assists and tied for the top spot in sacrifice flies with a pair. She was second on the squad with 13 doubles and tied second with four homers. Johnson ranked third in at-bats (129), hits (39), RBI (26), and total bases (66), while tying for the third slot with 21 runs scored.
Entering her senior campaign, the Spring Hill, Tenn. native sits sixth in Tusculum career on-base percentage (.388), tied for sixth with 16 homeruns, and tied seventh with four sacrifice flies. Johnson is also eighth in batting average (.339) and RBI (96), ninth with a slugging percentage of.527, and, finally, 10th in both doubles (33) and total bases (233).
Claire Crout will be battling for time as a freshman infielder. The two-sport athlete out of Enka High School was a two-time all-state and all-district performer, while being named all-conference three times. The 2016 state champion was also listed on the A/B Honor Roll.
Caitlyn Brinkley (Hendersonville, Tenn.) and Tori West (Knoxville, Tenn.) are two of the five returners to have seen action in the outfield for the Pioneers. Sophomore Brinkley started in seven of her 24 appearances, all in the outfield. She also pinch ran 15 times and pinch hit twice, scoring a run in six games. Her freshman fielding was flawless with 11 putouts and no errors.
West appeared in 27 games with five starts in the outfield, but was primarily used as a pinch hitter or runner. The junior also earned academic accolades: Division II Athletic Directors Association (D2 ADA) Honor Roll, SAC Commissioner's Honor Roll, and the TU Athletic Director's Honor Roll.
Looking for playing time in the grass will be a pair of newcomers: Ashley Harbison and Kristen Gass. Harbison, a freshman out of Knoxville, Tenn., finished her time at Powell High School with a .357 batting average, .451 on-base percentage, and nine homeruns. For two consecutive seasons, Harbison's team were champions of the district, region, and sub-state. They were also twice district runners-up. Additionally, she has a state runner-up and state championship to her credit. Off the field, the left-hander was a four-time all-academic selection, graduating sixth in her class, and earned numerous scholastic and volunteer awards.
Gass, a junior transfer from Etowah, N.C., was a two-time first-team all-region and all-academic selection at Spartanburg Methodist. Her sophomore season as a Pioneer in South Carolina was her best, compiling a .324 batting average, .381 OBP, .388 slugging percentage, .938 fielding percentage, three doubles, three triples, 22 runners batted in, and 14 stolen bases.
Sophomore Chloe Freischmidt (Naples, Fla.) is one of two returners to have spent time behind the plate. Out of 13 games, the right-hander was primarily a pinch hitter, but did see action as a catcher in two. In her at-bats, Freischmidt slugged .455, had an on-base percentage of .357, and both of her hits on the season were for extra bases.
Freshman Hailey Berglof (Maryville, Tenn.) averaged .365 at the plate across her four years at Heritage High School. Her sophomore year featured an all-region tournament team selection, alongside the district tournament championship and region tournament appearance. The following season, Berglof was named to the all-district and all-academic team.
Several Pioneers will rotate among various positions in the Tusculum lineup, with the capability of starting in both the infield and outfield, along with designated player.
Anna Alloway (Louisville, Tenn.) enters her junior season ranked fifth at Tusculum in career slugging percentage (.559), eighth in on-base percentage (.377), and 10th in batting average (.328). She started in 30 games last season, including 15 as TU's designated player. The remaining starts featured 14 times in the outfield and once at second base. Alloway also pinch hit in 10 games to see action in 40 contests. On the year, she finished with a .321 batting average, .357 OBP, and .532 slugging percentage. Off the field, Alloway racked up three academic honors.
Grayson Brown (Hixson, Tenn.) saw action in a variety of positions during her junior year, including third base, designated player, and a few pinch hitting appearances. In her first season as a Pioneer, she played in 39 games with 30 starts. Brown batted .304, slugged .519, and had an on-base percentage of .412. She laid down a team-leading four sacrifice bunts, along with two sacrifice flies to tie her for first. Brown also led the team in hit-by-pitches with eight, third in TU history for a season.
Alexis Grampp (Harrison, Tenn.) started in 29 of her 36 games played during her first year in Greeneville. She collected a team-high 28 runs and 19 walks, while second on the squad by being hit with six pitches. Grampp also tied for second with four homeruns and was third in on-base percentage (.418). She slugged .435, recorded 18 RBI, and stole four bases as well.
Bree Whitson (Lexington, Ky.) returns for her sophomore season after being credited with two pinch running appearances in March. The high school standout at Tates Creek will look to battle for more time during her second year at Tusculum.
Freshmen Hayley Lazo and Julia Street are the two new additions at the utility spot. Lazo, a Port Orange, Fla. resident, lettered all four years in softball and once in weightlifting at Spruce Creek High School. She was a four-time district champion and regional runner-up.
Street, a Glade Spring, Va. native, was a four-year letter-winner in softball, three-time in indoor track, and once in outdoor track. She was a two-time all-state selection in two indoor relays, while in outdoor, Street was the 2019 4x1 state champion, Overall Class A State Champion, and broke the Patrick Henry High School record in the same event. On the diamond, she was a two-time all-conference and all-district team member, a 2019 second-team All-Region selection, and the 2017 district and region champion. Street was also the winner of numerous scholastic accolades.
The Pioneers return three pitchers from last year's staff, led by junior Ivee Richesin (Philadelphia, Tenn.). Last season, Richesin went 7-8 and a 3.77 earned run average in 23 appearances (15 starts). She threw six complete games and struck out 43 batters in 91 innings of work.
Senior Allison Pate (Lucama, N.C.) made nine starts and compiled a 5-5 record with a 4.01 earned run average. The right-hander threw 64 2/3 innings over 17 appearances and struck out 37 batters, while tossing three complete games. Pate has a 17-16 career record with a 3.89 earned run average and 114 strikeouts in 205 innings pitched.
Ashley Scozzari, a junior from Mooresville, N.C., went 1-1 in eight relief appearances and picked up her first career save. She struck out eight in 13 innings pitched.
Huebner brought in three transfer pitchers in the off-season: Delilah Malczewski, Cloee-Anna Merritt, and Kaitlyn Pickens. Malczewski, a lefty from Mt. Prospect, Ill., was named to the All-Conference second team while at nearby Walters State. She led the Senators with a record of 17-9, alongside six saves, in 168.1 innings pitched. Malczewski appeared in 43 contests (29 starts), completing 13, on her way to garnering a 3.08 ERA with 91 strikeouts.
Merritt, a Daytona State transfer from Johnson City, Tenn., led the Falcons in nearly every category. She finished with a mark of 13-10, adding three saves, in 187.2 innings. In 39 appearances (22 starts), Merritt completed 19 games with 112 strikeouts on a 3.54 earned run average. She was also an all-conference second-team performer, two-time league scholar-athlete award winner, named to the Dean's List three years, and twice to the President's List.
Pickens was dominant in her sophomore season at Cleveland State. The first-team All-Conference selection racked up a record of 14-8 and two saves in 159.1 innings. She notched an ERA of 2.24 in 29 appearances (26 starts), including 20 complete games. The Knoxville, Tenn. right-hander totaled 176 strikeouts during the year.
The lone freshman pitcher on the roster is Madison Michael, a Cumming, Ga. native. A two-sport athlete at West Forsyth High School, she earned spots on the all-conference and all-county team for three years. Michael was also selected to the all-state team twice. In 2016, she accumulated a 1.67 ERA, .905 fielding percentage and .306 batting average. The next season, Michael registered a 2.15 earned run average, .953 fielding percentage, and .365 batting clip.