2018 Softball Preview: Grambling State
2017 Result: 13-32 (3-15 SWAC), Missed SWAC Tournament
Key Returners: P Caitlin McDowell, C/1B Allye Hartley, 2B/OF Tia Coleman, OF McKenzie Johnson, OF Kenyshae Beasley, OF Hailey Haynes
Key Losses: None
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – As one of the few teams in the Southwestern Athletic Conference set to return every meaningful contributor to the fold, the Grambling State Lady Tigers are hoping that an extra year of experience can help springboard them toward a tournament spot.
With a very youthful team in tow, last season saw an eight-win improvement for Coach Wilbert Early’s group. However, that step forward didn’t carry over into conference play as hoped. But there are several pieces in place where – assuming a step forward in production – the Lady Tigers can potentially be a dark horse tournament team.
Staff ace Caitlin McDowell (10-18, 5.20 ERA, 80 K, 164.1 IP) established herself as one of the most durable and reliable hurlers in the SWAC, ranking in the top five in wins, strikeouts and innings worked. She should be a solid No. 1 option in the circle, but the Lady Tigers could use another name or two to emerge and help McDowell carry the pitching corps.
A potential reason for optimism lies in the batting order. Despite finishing near the bottom of league ranks in terms of team offensive statistics, Grambling State is set to return some of the most productive individual performers in the league from an offensive standpoint.
Allye Hartley (.376 BA, 38 H, 9 2B, 19 RBI) returns to help anchor the lineup. In utility player Kenyshae Beasley (.285 BA, 35 R, 33 H, 30 SB in 30 attempts), Grambling State returns one of the more dangerous leadoff hitters and baserunners in the conference.
Tia Coleman stands as the top power hitter for the Lady Tigers. As a freshman, Coleman hit a stellar .390 with 32 hits and 13 runs scored. However, nearly have of Coleman’s hits were of the extra base variety, with nine doubles, six home runs (T-5th in SWAC) and 24 RBI. After missing a third of last season, Coleman could firmly entrench herself as one of the SWAC’s most explosive bats assuming health and an uptick in production.
McKenzie Johnson (.326 BA, 28 H, 18 R, 17 RBI, 3 HR, 3 3B, 2 2B, 9 SB) provides Grambling another dual-threat hitter, and senior Hailey Haynes (.319 BA, 37 H, 25 RBI, 18 R, 9 2B) provides another bat with some pop. The onus will be on Grambling State to find other hitters to supplement a top-heavy lineup.
Additionally, Grambling will look to be sharper defensively, particularly with its fielding – its .919 FLD% was third-lowest in the league – and defending the basepaths, where several teams exploited the Lady Tigers to the tune of 148 steals allowed in 150 attempts.
Grambling State opens the season on Feb. 9 versus Tennessee-Martin as part of Louisiana-Monroe’s Mardi Gras Classic.