OCALA--The College of Central Florida softball team is set to kick off the 2017 season this weekend at the Juco Kickoff Classic in Clearwater, Fla.
CF enters the season as the NJCAA Div. I Preseason No. 1. This is not unfamiliar territory for CF as they held the No. 1 ranking for seven consecutive weeks a year ago.
The back-to-back Mid-Florida Conference champions return nine players from last year's squad, but will look to several newcomers to round out their starting line up, especially in the circle.
"We have another great, dynamic team this year," said head coach Kevin Fagan, who enters his fourth season as the Lady Patriot head coach. "We have great depth in the circle unlike we have ever had here."
CF will be without NJCAA All-American ace pitcher Kalen McGill (University of South Florida), who led the state with most regular season wins and lowest earned run average last season.
Fagan will look to freshmen Shayne O'Connell, Morgan Cushman and Lindsay Markham, as well as returner Lindsey White and redshirt freshman Shelby Alsdorf to fill the void and continue the dominance that Fagan's pitching staffs have established over the past three seasons. Under Fagan, his pitching staffs have led the state in lowest ERA and most regular season wins each of the last two seasons.
Barlow, the reigning state and conference player of the year, and Cullop combined to be two of the best hitters in the state a season ago. Cullop boasted the second best batting average in the state, while Barlow became only the third player in Region 8 history to drive in 100 or more runs in a single season.
"It is always great when you return two of the best hitters in the state, while replenishing with several other power hitters," said Fagan. "We had a great fall, beating UCF and were competitive with all other Div. I programs we played…it was great experience to get the girls ready for one of the toughest schedules in the nation."
Come opening day, Barlow (1B), Lizzmore (2B), Nix (SS), and Rule (3B) will bolster the infield, while newcomer Hannah Kelly will start behind the plate. In the outfield, Cullop will anchor center field, while returner Claudia Jones and Chipola transfer Tiffani Railey will cover the corners.
CF will kick off the opening weekend tournament with Motlow State Community College on Saturday at 11 a.m., before taking on in-state powerhouse Miami Dade College (3:20 p.m.) and Richard Bland College (5:40 p.m.). On Sunday, they will face Georgia Military College (9 a.m.) and South Georgia State College (11 a.m.).
The Lady Patriot home opener will be Thursday, February 4 against State College of Florida. It will be a doubleheader at 2 and 4 p.m.