2018 Softball Preview: Prairie View A&M
2017 Result: 20-28 (11-7 SWAC), Lost in SWAC Softball Tournament quarterfinals
Key Returners: 3B Kylar Ward-Flowers, P Ashley Higgins, OF Shelby Williams, 1B Laurisa Hernandez, UTL Alyssa Garcia, 2B Destinee Williams
Key Losses: OF Briana Knowles
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – After emerging as one of the surprise contenders of 2017, Prairie View A&M returns a loaded unit primed to contend for this year’s softball championship.
2017 SWAC Coach of the Year Vernon Bland is set to return nearly every key piece of a lineup that ranked in the top 4 league-wise when it comes to home runs and RBIs. Several All-SWAC performers are expected to return to The Hill this season, led by sophomore utility player Alyssa Garcia, senior third baseman Kylar Ward-Flowers and junior first baseman Laurisa Hernandez.
Garcia led the team with six home runs and 37 RBI while hitting .319 with a .546 slugging percentage. Ward-Flowers is the top returning hitter after posting a .357 batting average (.530 SLG%) last season with five home runs, 22 runs, and 22 RBI on 41 hits. Along with Hernandez -- a big bat in her own right as she hit .342 with a .535 slugging percentage, 39 hits, 5 homers, 28 RBI, and 21 runs in 2017 – the trio stands as arguably the most dangerous in the conference.
Speedy outfielder Shelby Williams (.293 BA, 49 R, 48 SB, 46 H) returns as well, and should be one of the best lead-off hitters in the SWAC as well as the premier base-stealer in the league. Fleshing out the lineup is former All-SWAC player Destinee Williams (.270 BA, 37 H, 30 R, 28 RBI, 4 HR) and utility player Kelsey Coronado (.307 BA, 27 H, 17 R, 15 RBI, 4 HR).
In all, the Lady Panthers appear to have power throughout the lineup and should field one of the better and deeper offenses in the conference.
2017 first-team All-SWAC hurler Ashley Higgins returns to anchor the pitching staff as well. The junior southpaw was 12-16 with a 5.18 ERA and 50 strikeouts, throwing two no-hitters as well last season. Additionally, No. 2 pitcher Taylor Drury (7-11, 85.2 IP, 19 K) is back in the fold, giving Bland and the Lady Panthers experienced arms to lean on inside the circle.
Although a proven and effective staff, the Lady Panthers’ pitching is not the most overpowering unit. The goal for it is to up its strikeout totals and lower its ERA while keeping games in control for what looks to be a top-tier offense on paper.
Prairie View A&M opens the season on Feb. 9 versus North Texas in the Louisiana-Monroe Mardi Gras Classic.