With the return of four key starters, the Long Beach State softball team hopes to build off its strong 2013 finish.
After winning consecutive Big West titles in 2011 and 2012, the 49ers’ postseason streak came to an end last year. Despite winning 10 out of their last 12 games, the 49ers’ postseason hopes ended after Hawaii defeated Pacific to claim the Big West title.
Head coach Kim Sowder, entering her 8th season, said the goal is to make the postseason.
“It’s always our goal to get into postseason,” she said. “Last year I thought we had a pretty good season, with 37 wins and a pretty tough schedule,” Sowder said. “It was probably the toughest schedule we’ve ever had.”
Despite the losses of seniors Nalani St. Germain, Emily Gregorio and Brianna Stephan, the 49ers return four key players including the last year’s Big West Player of the Year, shortstop Shayna Kimbrough. The junior hit an impressive .374 with 13 stolen bases in 56 games.
Reigning Freshman Player of the Year Darian Tautalafua, who had a .288 batting average and team-leading 13 home runs, also returns to build on her strong season debut.
With veteran leadership and young talent in place, coach Sowder is confident that the 49ers will return to postseason play in 2014.
“We have seven seniors this season and quite a few juniors that play key roles,” she said. “We have two seniors that red-shirted last year that have a lot of experience and will definitely step in right away and contribute to our team.”
Among the veteran leaders that will be counted on are pitcher Erin Jones-Wesley and outfielder Hanna De Gaetano. The seniors were first team All-Big West selections last year.
Jones-Wesley had another stellar season, going 20-8 with a 2.51 ERA in 176 innings pitched. It was Jones-Wesley’s third consecutive season with at least 20 victories. De Gaetano hit .350 with six home runs in 51 games.
LBSU’s goal is to return to postseason play, and they begin their journey playing No. 12 team in the nation, Kentucky, in the Mizuno Invitational at the 49er Softball Complex.
“We’re excited to have Kentucky here,” Sowder said. “We’re thrilled about the opportunity to play them.”
The 49ers also play four other ranked teams this season: Michigan (5), Texas (10), UCLA (13) and LSU (19).
“We want to play a tough schedule, as tough as possible,” Sowder said. “Find out exactly where we’re at.”