#31 USC Upstate Softball 2016 Preview

USC Upstate Spartans
Overall Rank: #31
Conference Rank: #1 Atlantic Sun
 USC Upstate Softball
USC Upstate is coming off a season in which the Spartans earned their third consecutive berth to the NCAA Tournament and won both the A-Sun regular season and tournament championships. However, the Spartans return just eight players from the team that was led by ten seniors, leaving the 2016 squad with a lot of holes to fill. Only reigning A-Sun Pitcher of the Year Lexi Shubert, reigning A-Sun Freshman of the Year Karla Beasley and outfielder Ryan Rector have seen significant playing time among the returning players on a team that has nine freshmen and six sophomores.
2015: 44-10, 18-2
2015 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Chris Hawkins
Field Players:
Last year's Spartans scored nearly 400 runs, hit 94 home runs, 86 doubles and accumulated 346 RBI. All but 12 of Beasley's home runs are now departed, as are all but 13 doubles and 295 RBI. The Spartans shouldn't worry though, as having Beasley is a good building block and Upstate brought in four transfers to help ease the transition of all the younger players. Of the four transfers, junior college transfer Lindsay O'Steen and FSU transfer Amy Szymanowski look to be instant contributors. O'Steen comes to Upstate after a juco career that saw her put up career stats of 26 doubles, 12 home runs, 67 RBI, 86 runs scored and 22 steals. Szymanowski played one year at FSU after transferring to the ACC power from a juco as well. The senior comes to the Spartans after starting 19 of 31 games she played in last year for the Seminoles, but was a two-time NJCAA All-American. While at the College of Central Florida, she hit 38 home runs and drove in 106 RBI in her two years at the school.
What the Spartans lack in experience in the field is made up for with the return of junior ace Lexi Shubert. Shubert was 34-7 with a 1.67 ERA and 225 strikeouts, compared to 47 walks. In conference play, the reigning A-Sun Pitcher of the Year was even better, going 15-1 with a 1.12 ERA. The No. 2 from last year, Amanda Storch, returns after earning All-Freshman honors from the conference and the rotation is bolstered by the addition of junior college All-American Holly McKinnon and freshman Kori Wancheck, last year's South Carolina 4A Player of the Year. 
Who to Watch:
One could really say any of the field position players would fit here. With so much inexperience returning, the door is open for many of the young players to step right in and be big time contributors from their first day. Ansley Gilstrap comes to USC Upstate after a successful high school career that had her finish with career numbers of an average of .476 with 140 RBIs, 166 runs, 12 home runs, 22 triples, 26 doubles and 91 stolen bases. Abbie Millete drove in 49 at Seminole State College last season. Of the returnees, Ryan Rector will be one to look to as she has started 25 of the 66 games she's played in while at Upstate.
Final Projection:
This won't be last season's USC Upstate squad. The team might have to rely on Shubert's arm a bit to start the season to help ease all the newcomers in. Coach Hawkins and the rest of USC Upstate's staff continues to bring in good players, witnessed by the fact three of the last four A-Sun Freshmen of the Year awards have gone to members of the Spartans. A combo of Beasley, O'Steen and Szymanowski should be able to help ignite the offense, especially early. The Spartans play three of their four tournaments at home and shouldn't really be tested until the end of February when they face Virginia, Virginia Tech and Ohio State in a weekend. Other big nonconference games include a mid-major matchup against SIUE, a game against USF and in-state rival South Carolina.
Projected Postseason:  NCAA Softball Tournament
Returning Leaders:
At Bats: Karla Beasley, IF, 144
Hits: Karla Beasley, IF, 57
Home Runs: Karla Beasley, IF, 12
RBIs: Karla Beasley, IF, 50
Runs: Karla Beasley, IF, 28
Stolen Bases: Kendsey Chappelear, OF, 6
Wins: Lexi Shubert, P, 34
Innings Pitched: Lexi Shubert, P, 243
Strikeouts: Lexi Shubert, P, 225
Complete Games: Lexi Shubert, P, 33