2018 Softball Preview: Southern
2017 Result: 17-22 (7-10 SWAC), lost in SWAC softball tournament semifinals
Key Returners: C Kiara Suttles, 3B Jazmine Dukes, P Aubrion James, P/DP Tiara Scott, UTL Scarlett Brock, OF Sydney Andrews, OF Shauna Knighten
Key Losses: P Kayleigh Thomas, IF Jade Luke
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – After getting to the semifinals of the Southwestern Athletic Conference Softball Tournament last season, a scrappy Southern Jaguars team heads into 2018 planning to make a run for the crown.
Coach John Garris returns the vast majority of what – at least on paper – projects to be one of the more feared lineups in the conference from a sheer power standpoint. The Jaguars are set to return four players that hit at least .270 or better while accounting for at least three home runs, 30 or more hits and 20 or more RBI during the 2017 season.
Leading the way is senior catcher Kiara Suttles, who may be the premier slugger in the conference. After leading the nation in home runs per game in 2016, Suttles was again near the top of the SWAC in multiple power hitting categories. Suttles should be one of the top candidates for Hitter and Player of the Year during the 2018 season.
Supplementing the Jaguars’ lineup is sophomore third baseman Jazmine Dukes, senior outfielder Sydney Andrews and junior outfielder Shauna Knighten. Dukes immediately flashed considerable thump at the plate, hitting .274 with seven home runs and a team-best 26 RBI while scoring 24 runs during her freshman season.
Andrews (.298 BA, 36 H, 23 R, 11 RBI, 9 SB) and Knighten (.340 BA, 33 H, 22 RBI, 17 R, 4 2B, 3 HR) are both consistent threats to set the table for the Jaguars’ bigger bats, and fellow outfielder Adrianne Roberson (.268 BA, 19 H, 11 R, 13 SB) adds some speed on the basepaths.
In the circle, the Jaguars return three reliable options, led by 2018 preseason second-teamer Aubrion James. James posted a 6-9 record with 41 strikeouts in her freshman season along with a 2.73 ERA in 2017, fifth-lowest in the SWAC. Tiara Scott (3-7, 31 K) was not to be outdone, posting the sixth-lowest ERA in the league at 3.54. Scarlett Brock (2-3, 6.42 ERA) showed flashes of effectiveness as well.
Additionally, Southern has perhaps the most offensively-capable set of pitchers in the league. Scott led the team in batting average (.356), extra-base hits (13), and picked up 32 hits with five homers, 21 RBI and 17 runs scored. Brock batted .323 with 20 hits, 11 RBI and 10 runs scored as well, ensuring the Jaguars have offensive threats throughout the roster.
Southern opens the season at home against Nebraska-Omaha on Feb. 14 at 4 p.m. at Lady Jaguar Field.