#33 South Alabama Softball 2016 Preview

South Alabama Jaguars
Overall Rank: #33
Conference Rank: #2 Sun Belt
South Alabama Logo
Consistency has been the name of the game for the University of South Alabama softball team. The Jaguars advanced to their fourth consecutive NCAA Softball Tournament Regional Final. They also won their third Sun Belt Conference title in four years and won 40 games once again under the direction of head coach Becky Clark.
2015: 40-13, 16-4
2015 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Becky Clark
Field Players:
There will be some work to do for the Jaguars to compensate for the loss of Chloe Rathburn. Rathburn, who transferred to Missouri, led the team in hitting last season at .371 and drove in 53 runs. Kaitlyn Griffin’s power is going to be another critical issue to address for South Alabama as she hit 13 homeruns and drove in 47 runs. Senior Emily Messer returns this season and will be looking  to build  upon an excellent 2015 seasons. Messer hit .321 and can cause a lot of havoc on the bases as she stole 12 bases in 15 attempts last season. Infielder/outfielder Amanda Minahan and outfielder/catcher Stephanie Pilkington will be the primary power sources offensively for South Alabama and if they can combine to drive in at least 80 runs or more, than the Jaguars will be fine offensively.
Devin Brown will have to take on a bit more of an increased workload in the circle this season which should not phase her at all. Brown was very dominant at times in 2015, striking out 183 batters in 117.1 innings pitched and limiting opposing hitters to a .175 batting average. So look for Brown to be the number one starter going into the beginning of the season and, if she can pitch over 200 innings, that will allow the rest of the staff time to develop.
Who to Watch:
The battle to back up Brown in the circle will be an intriguing one to watch as both Destin Vicknair and Tucker Caraway will be battling for the two and three starter positions in the pitching rotation. The lack of experience at the Division I level is going to be the biggest obstacle for both pitchers to overcome as Vicknair is a transfer from LSU-Eunice and Caraway is an incoming freshman. Both will have to hit the ground running quickly if the Jaguars are going to continue to dominate in the circle.
Final Projection:
South Alabama reaped the benefits of playing in the Sun Belt Conference last season as the Sun Belt was number five last season in Conference RPI. Thus, it takes a little bit of pressure off of them when they take in their non-conference schedule. A matchup with UAB will kickoff the season in Mobile on February 11. The Jaguars also will battle Florida, LSU, Alabama, Mississippi State and SIU-Edwardsville which will give plenty of additional strength to their NCAA Tournament resume. A trip to Lafayette, Louisiana to take on the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns to start Sun Belt Conference play will be a great litmus test for the pitching staff to see how far along they have come. It also will be a great chance for Brown to assert herself as the ace and try and pitch her team to a key conference series win. In short, this South Alabama team, if they stay healthy and come together chemistry wise over the long haul of the season, will win around 40 games again and be a dangerous NCAA regional team to deal with.
Projected Postseason: NCAA Softball Tournament
Returning Leaders:
At Bats: Emily Messer, OF, 184
Hits: Emily Messer, OF, 59
Home Runs: Amanda Minahan, IF/OF, 6
RBIs: Stephanie Pilkington, OF/C, 33
Runs: Emily Messer, OF, 47
Stolen Bases: Kaleigh Todd, IF, 16
Wins: Devin Brown, P, 12
Innings Pitched: Devin Brown, P, 117.1
Strikeouts: Devin Brown, P, 183
Complete Games: Devin Brown, P, 4