2014 Missouri State Softball Season Preview: Infielders
Feb. 4, 2014
As the Missouri State softball team prepares for Saturday's regular season opener at Georgia Tech, we take a look at this year's team in a four-part season preview. Today's focus is the infield.
The Bears have a pair of seniors, both returning all-conference selections, likely to start on the infield in 2014. Their experience will be vital with the loss of graduating seniors at shortstop and first base.
Second baseman Ashley Brentz has been a first-team All-MVC honoree each of the last two seasons. Her ability to contribute in any way possible is uncanny on this squad. She hit .295 with 17 walks, four sac flies, eight sacrifice bunts and advanced 23 runners providing valuable outs. Brentz topped the Bears last season with a nine-game hitting streak from March 16-29. Freshman Olivia Roark is a speedy option that provides depth at second.
Third baseman Heather Duckworth picked up her first league honor in 2013 with a second-team selection. The likely starter at the hot corner, she hit .292 with three home runs and 23 RBI. Duckworth had a career day at Illinois State on April 6, driving in four runs, one of seven multi-RBI games in 2013.
MSU looks to a pair of sophomores to fill playing time at first base. Mary Stephens, who is also frequently the designated player, was an all-conference second teamer as a freshman. She hit .309 and led the Bears with 19 hits with runners in scoring position. Bethany Sullinger will move to first base and can back up at third base when needed. Her first career hit was a home run in a win over Toledo.
Shortstop will be one of the most intriguing positions to watch. Following the graduation of Kirstin Cutter, redshirt sophomore Erin Duewel and freshman Elena Gambill will battle for playing time. Duewel looks healthy after a season-ending injury last year. Gambill brings a strong resume to the Bears after hitting .450 as a senior, the best average on her team.
"We have a lot of good options," said associate head coach Sue Frederick. "Mary is very instinctive and has great game sense. Bethany moves over there from third base and brings a competitive spirit and desire to make a difference on the field. At shortstop, it comes down to who can provide consistency, make big plays for us and add punch to our lineup offensively. Brentz is going to solidify the right side of the infield with her reliable play. She has been a steady force for two solid seasons. Olivia is a viable backup at that position. Duckworth is going to have a great finish to her career and be our rock at third base."