Feb. 13, 2014
CULLOWHEE, N.C - Western Carolina softball will trade in the snow-covered ground of Cullowhee for the sandy beaches of Charleston, S.C. when the team opens the 2014 season Friday at the College of Charleston Classic Feb. 14-16.
"The players are so ready to get going," said Head Coach Jim Cift. "We are all aware of the top level schedule we have in front of us and our excited to compete with these quality opponents this weekend in Charleston."
It is the start of four straight road tournaments for the Catamounts. Western Carolina will not host its home opener until March 15 when it hosts Elon in its Southern Conference opener as well. Before coming home, the Catamounts will play 22 straight road games.
Western Carolina opens the tournament, in Charleston, with former Southern Conference opponent College of Charleston at 3:30 p.m. Friday. In 2013, the Catamounts were 2-2 against the Cougars knocking off College of Charleston, who was the No. 2 seed in the 2013 Southern Conference Tournament, 3-1 in the first round as the No. 7 seed.
Besides Charleston, Western Carolina has faced one other team in the tournament in Kansas. The Catamounts and the Jayhawks met Feb. 3, 2009 with Kansas edging out Western Carolina 7-6.
"I believe we will truly compete," Clift admitted. "We have worked very hard in the weight room and on the field. We are stronger and faster than we have ever been. The team has worked especially hard at executing plays."
Western Carolina will meet opponents DePaul, Ole Miss and Fordham for the first time. Ole Miss is the first of three Southeastern Conference opponents WCU will face this season. The Catamounts will play in a tournament hosted by the University of Georgia Feb. 28 through March 2 and will play a single game at No. 1 ranked Tennessee March 11.
"We have had many opportunities to strengthen our mental toughness and are anxious to test it out," Clift said. "Considering the competition we will be facing, I think we will get the opportunity to see what we are made of. This team is ready to establish a new culture and forge new traditions in Catamount softball. I believe they are more than up to the task."
The Catamounts return nine players from last season.
Sophomore Taylor Sigmon was named to the 2014 Southern Conference Preseason All-Southern Conference Second Team at first base. Sigmon also sees time as a pitcher for Western Carolina.
Sigmon, from Catawba, N.C., was the only Catamount freshman from the 2013 season to play in all 56 games. She led the team in homeruns (7), RBI (28) and doubles (9) and was second on the team in batting average at .273. She also ranked second on the team in hits with 44 and topped the team in multiple hit games with 13. She had just six errors at first base.
Sophomore Karley Harkey will help anchor the left side at short stop. As a freshman, Harkey won the starting spot midway through the 2013 season. She went 17 straight games without committing an error and in her 23 games she started she had four errors. In the 39 games she saw action she had just eight errors over the course of the 2013 season. She ended the year with a .207 batting average, 18 hits, 17 runs scored and six RBI with two stolen bases.
Western Carolina will also benefit from junior hurler Jordan Garrett. The Henderson, N.C. native broke the Western Carolina single-season strikeout record ending 2013 with 223, which also led the Southern Conference. Garrett has 370 strikeouts in her career, which is good for second in the Catamount record books, and needs 13 strikeouts to break the school record for career strikeouts which stands at 382.
Sophomore pitcher Mallory Broome will also be a key pitcher for Western Carolina. In 2013, she ranked second on the team with a 3.57 ERA and a 5-10 overall record and second on the team in strikeouts with 72, ranking her 10th in Catamount record books for strikeouts in a season.
In the outfield, Western Carolina returns veteran Amelia Griffin. The senior from Lexington, N.C. tied the Catamount single-season stolen base record with 16 swipes in 2013. She also led the team in hits with 46 and had a .253 batting average. Her 28 runs scored also led the team.
The Catamounts will also incorporate six newcomers, many expected to see playing time. The Catamounts also added a fourth pitcher in freshman Courtney Buchanan from Nebo, N.C.