2018 Softball Preview: Arkansas-Pine Bluff
2017 Result: 20-24 (11-7 SWAC), lost in SWAC Softball Tournament Semifinals
Key Returners: OF Tonnay Hawkins, OF Ta’Lyn Moody, 2B Monique Nikolao, OF Shanice Akins, P Angelique Ramos, P Karia Beth Hall
Key Losses: C/IF Paige Garcia
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – On the heels of setting a new program record for wins in a season (20), the Lady Lions of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff come into 2018 with a upperclassman-heavy core as they look to build on last season’s momentum.
Coach Kevin Montgomery was able to find immediate success during his first year as coach of the Lady Lions, as the team advanced to the semifinals of the Southwestern Athletic Conference softball tournament and led the nation in triples per game, UAPB’s cupboard remains stocked for contention.
The catalyst for the team’s offense will be first-team All-SWAC outfielder Tonnay Hawkins. After winning the conference’s batting title with a .436 average to go with 65 hits, 39 runs scored, three home runs and 15 stolen bases. The senior stands as perhaps the premier leadoff hitter in the league.
Arguably the glaring point of emphasis for UAPB will be finding a power hitter to tie matters together, as slugger Paige Garcia has graduated. That said, the Lady Lions return five players that accounted for 30 or more hits and 20 or more runs scored.
The duo of Monique Nikolao and Ta’Lyn Moody look like the primary candidates to clear the table for the Lady Lions going forward. Moody’s .374 batting average was second-best on the team, with 55 hits, 34 runs scored, 26 RBI and 10 extra-base hits (six doubles, four triples). Nikolao also flashed as one of the best gap-attackers in the conference, hitting .325 with 40 hits, 20 runs scored, 19 RBI and 10 doubles.
With Shanice Akins (.318 BA, 34 H, 30 R, 3 2B, 3 3B) also in play, she along with Nikolao and Moody could provide a stout heart-of-the-order setup for the Lady Lions.
In the circle, UAPB returns its top two arms in Angelique Ramos and Karia Beth Hall. Ramos went 11-9 with a 4.14 ERA and 47 strikeouts, earning some honorable mentions during the all-league selection process. Hall stands as the workhorse of the group, as she sat down a team-high 81 hitters and posted a 9-14 record while leading the team in complete games (16), innings worked (136.0) and appearances (31).
The Lady Lions open the season Feb. 10 versus Drury during the Pine Bluff Classic, also involving Alabama A&M.