49ers open softball season at Fresno State Tournament Friday-Sunday
Feb. 7, 2012
FRESNO STATE TOURNAMENT
Long Beach State vs. Sacramento State, 9 a.m.
Long Beach State vs. Toledo, 4:30 p.m.
Long Beach State vs. Toledo, 11:30 a.m.
Long Beach State vs. North Dakota State, 6:45 p.m.
Long Beach State at Fresno State, 2 p.m.
Long Beach State heads into the 2012 softball season with high expectations a year after making its 20th appearance in the NCAA Tournament, which included a runner-up finish in the Big West Conference where the 49ers narrowly missed winning their first league title since 2008.
Sixth-year head coach Kim Sowder returns eight position players who started at least 28 games last season, with three of them earning All-Big West honors, including first-team all-league outfielder Hannah De Gaetano (left field). Second baseman Nalani St. Germain claimed second-team all-conference honors as did designated player Sarah Carrasco. In addition to those three, the 49ers return starters at catcher (Dana Garcia/Karli Sandoval platoon), shortstop (Alisha Rosen), and centerfield (Megan Denio/Bree Stephan platoon).
While the lineup is loaded, Long Beach State's pitching may be the team's strength. Erin Jones-Wesley, the 2011 Big West Conference Pitcher of the Year and Big West Conference Freshman Pitcher of the Year, returns to the circle where she finished last season with a 23-8 record and a 1.80 ERA. She will be joined in the rotation by senior Taylor Petty, a three-time all-league pick, who finished her junior year with a 6-4 record, a 2.34 ERA and five saves, despite being limited by a hip injury most of the season.
Long Beach State will once again face a tough schedule featuring nine games against eight teams receiving votes in the USA Today/NFCA Coaches Poll. Three of those teams, No. 8 Arizona, No. 9 Stanford and No. 19 UCLA are ranked in the top 25. The 49ers will face two teams (Stanford and Arizona) ranked in the top 10 in the Cathedral City Classic in Palm Springs from Feb. 23-26. They will also face UCLA in the Long Beach State Invitational on March 9.
LBSU, who heads into the season as the co-Big West favorite in the preseason coaches poll, opens league play at UC Santa Barbara on Mach 31. The 49ers finish the season with a three-game series against defending champion and 2012 co-favorite Pacific at the 49er Softball Complex on May 11-12. The May 11 doubleheader will be broadcast on ESPN3, while the doubleheader at Cal State Fullerton on May 5 will be televised by ESPNU.
LBSU's home schedule also features five games in the Long Beach State Invitational, March 8-11, including games against Oregon State, UCLA and North Carolina. The 49ers host Maine and Iowa in non-league doubleheaders, while hosting Pacific, Cal Poly and UC Riverside in three-game series' during league play
One of the biggest strengths of the 49ers team should be on the mound where Long Beach State returns a pair of players in Petty and Jones-Wesley, a sophomore, who have combined for 54 wins in their careers and have claimed a number of conference and national honors. Both claimed Big West Conference Freshman of the Year honors during their initial seasons at LBSU (Petty shared the honor), and both earned first-team all-league honors the same year. While Jones-Wesley was the conference pitcher of the year last year, Petty was an honorable-mention all-league selection after being named second-team all-conference as a sophomore. The two enter this season as co-number ones in the rotation.
"Erin got a lot of experience last year and got quite a few big wins for us," LBSU pitching coach Stephanie Swenson said. "Taylor has a lot of experience in the circle and she is healthy right now which will help."
Petty (5-5, RHP) battled a hip injury for most of her junior season that limited the number of innings she could pitch. Despite the injury, she finished with five saves, a Long Beach State single-season record, including one in the 49ers' 6-2 win over San Diego State at the NCAA Regionals. In her three-year career at LBSU she has a 31-22 record with a 2.04 ERA and 365 career strikeouts. Petty is fourth in career strikeouts at Long Beach State, while ranking second all-time in saves. She needs five more wins to crack the top 10 at LBSU.
Jones-Wesley (5-4, RHP) got thrown into the deep end during her freshman season and responded with one of the top seasons by a pitcher on school history. In addition to the conference honors she earned, Jones-Wesley was named second-team all-region. She finished ranked in the single-season record books at LBSU in three categories, finishing second in appearances (40), seventh in complete games (11) and fourth in strikeouts (172). She earned Big West Conference Player of the Week honors six times, while throwing a pair of no-hitters and striking out 11 batters (10th most in LBSU history) against Utah State in one of the no-hitters. Jones-Wesley also picked up wins over two ranked teams, No. 6 Oklahoma and No. 21 Baylor, while winning her first career postseason game against San Diego State.
With a healthy Petty and the addition of a pair of new pitchers, Jones-Wesley shouldn't have to carry the work load she carried as a freshman. Freshman Amanda Hansen (5-10, RHP) joined the team before the fall semester and worked a number of innings during the fall season to get ready for the 2012 campaign. Sophomore Christian Carbajal (5-5, RHP) joined the team in January after earning first-team all-state honors as a freshman at Antelope Valley College.
"Amanda will start out as the number three," Sowder said. "She had a good fall for us and pitched a lot of innings. They are both new to this level so it is yet to be determined how they do in the long run."
"It makes Erin and Taylor more effective," Swenson added referring to the addition of the two new pitchers. "Christian and Amanda will throw some relief to keep those two fresh. We will mix and match and see what combination works."
A pair of catchers will split time behind the plate for the second consecutive season. Junior Dana Garcia (5-6, S/R) and sophomore Karli Sandoval (5-7, R/R) combined to hit .267 with four home runs, eight doubles, a triple and 15 RBI last season. The two had an identical number of at-bats (75) with Garcia putting up a better average and Sandoval providing more home runs.
Garcia hit .307 with 23 hits, 28 runs scored, five doubles, one triple and one home run while starting 28 games. Sandoval batted .227 with 17 hits, nine runs scored, three doubles, three home runs and eight RBI. Garcia threw out five of 19 runners who attempted to steal, while Sandoval cut down four runners in 14 attempts.
"I feel very comfortable with them catching any pitcher on our staff," Sowder said. "It's a long season so we can keep them fresh. It helps both of them offensively being fresh and not catching 50 games back-to-back."
Carrasco (5-8, R/R), who will see a bulk of her time at the designated player or in the outfield, will serve as the third catcher if necessary.
The 49ers return starters up the middle with St. Germain (5-9, R/R) returning at second base and Rosen (5-6, R/R) coming back at shortstop. The 49ers will turn to new faces at first and third to replace first-team All-Big West selection Liz Javier and second-team all-league pick Christina Schallig.
St. Germain is the anchor for the infield returning for her third season as the starting second baseman. The two-time all-league selection led LBSU in six offensive categories - home runs (8), RBI (30), runs (28), slugging percentage (.503), and stolen bases (12-for-12) - while hitting .307. She ranks third all-time at Long Beach State with 16 home runs, and needs just eight more as a junior to tie Lauren Johnson (2002-05) for the all-time lead. The Chino Hills, Calif., native, who is a perfect 20-for-20 in stolen bases during her career, needs just one more stolen base to crack the all-time top 10 at LBSU.
Rosen returns at shortstop after starting 49 of Long Beach State's 56 games during her junior season. She hit .198 with 12 RBI and 11 runs scored, while stealing three bases. She hit her first career home run in helping LBSU rally from an early deficit in its 6-2 win over San Diego State in the first game of the NCAA Regional Tournament.
"She's got great speed, can steal bases and works her tail off," Sowder said about Rosen. "She came on last year at the regionals and started to gain her confidence."
Junior college transfer Ashlynn Booker (5-7, R/R) moves in as the starter at first base after a stellar career at Mount San Antonio Junior College where she combined to hit .448 with 31 home runs, 89 RBI and 15 doubles in two seasons. She finished her sophomore year with 22 round trippers, which set a new Mt. SAC record. Booker, who could also see time at designated player, will be backed up by St. Germain or sophomore Loni Tyler (5-10, R/R).
True freshman Shayna Kimbrough (5-4, L/R) heads into the season as the starting third baseman, but could see time at shortstop as well. Kimbrough and Rosen could switch positions with Rosen moving to third. Senior Jennifer Madigan (5-9, R/R) will also play third base. She hit .180 with one home run and 12 RBI as a junior.
Junior College second baseman Cya Neal (5-2, S/R) joined the 49ers in January after spending two seasons at Mt. SAC where she was named All-SoCal after hitting .450 with 16 RBI and 31 stolen bases as a sophomore. She will play second base when St. Germain moves to first.
The 49ers return three outfielders who started at least 38 games in De Gaetano (5-4, R/R), Denio (5-2, L/R) and Stephan (5-5, R/R), while adding freshman Leilani Tupua-Tautalatasi (5-10, L/R) to the mix. Carrasco will also see time in the outfield, as will sophomore Emily Gregorio (5-4, L-R).
De Gaetano, a sophomore, will start in left field. She finished last season hitting .320 after starting the season 1-for-20. She batted .371 (39-for-105) the rest of the season and finished with two home runs, eight doubles and 17 RBI. Denio will back up De Gaetano when she isn't playing elsewhere in the outfield.
Tupua-Tautalatasi will get the start in centerfield. She played four seasons at Oxnard High School in Oxnard, Calif., where she was named first-team All-Pacific Valley View League twice. She hit .506 with three home runs as a senior.
"Offensively, Leilani has a lot of different tools," Sowder said. "She's got the short game and she's got the power. She hit very well in the fall, drove the ball. In the outfield she came up with phenomenal catches. She is a tough, confident player and she is gritty."
Stephan, a junior, will initially back up Tupua-Tautalatasi after battling injuries for much of her sophomore season. Stephan, a second-team All-Big West pick as a freshman in 2010, hit .277 last season with six doubles and six RBI.
Denio and Stephan will spend time in right field, as will Carrasco. Denio hit .275 as a junior last season, with one home run and 11 RBI. Carrasco, who may see a bulk of her time as the designated player after earning all-league honors in that position last season, batted .325 with two home runs, seven doubles and 21 RBI as a freshman. Gregorio played in 14 games as a true freshman and scored five runs.