#29 Western Kentucky Softball 2016 Preview

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Overall Rank: #29
Conference Rank: #2 Conference USA
 Western Kentucky Logo
The Hilltoppers are coming off of the best season in team history and are having to replace seven senior starters, including the program's first All-American, Miranda Kramer, who was an NFC First Team All-American. Western Kentucky came within one game of winning the Athens (Ga.) Regional last season, but dropped two games to Georgia on the final day of regional play.  Twelve of the 17 players on this season's roster are freshmen or sophomores, making the squad a very young one to start the season.
2015: 36-14, 16-5
2015 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Amy Tudor
Field Players:
Western Kentucky loses its top four hitters, but brings back five players who started at least 24 games, including Brooke Holloway, who started all 50 games last season. Holloway hit .250 while punching out five doubles, four home runs and 24 RBI. Lexie Norfleet started 40 games and had five of her hits go for extra bases. Carleigh Chaumont started only 35 games, but she hit .274, knocking around 29 hits, including five doubles and two home runs. She also stole six bases. Kelsey McGuffin comes to Western Kentucky after a monster high school career, one that saw her finish second in Kentucky high school softball history with 50 home runs, third with 240 RBI and first with 272 runs scored.
Miranda Kramer pitched one season for Western Kentucky and all she did was earn the program's first All-American award after finishing as a member of the NFCA All-America First Team. However, her graduation leaves very little experience in the circle. Hannah Parker and Kelsey Jernigan both saw minimal action in the circle last season, as the two combined for five starts and 20 total appearances. Kathryn Downing is listed as a pitcher on the roster, but has not seen any action in the circle during her time in the Hilltopper program.
Who to Watch:
The pitching staff. Last season Kramer went 26-10 with a 1.24 ERA in 39 appearances, 38 of which were starts. Hannah Parker comes back with the most experience in the circle, having appeared as a pitcher in 17 games, including four starts. She finished with a 6-1 record, but also had an ERA over four and had two saves. She'll be looked upon to take the reigns and be the team's top starter this upcoming season.
Final Projection:
It'll be hard to replace all that the Hilltoppers lost from last season. But the team has gone to the NCAA Tournament twice in the last three seasons, so it's not beyond the realm of possibilities that the team will overcome the losses they encountered and end up in the postseason again. The Hilltoppers schedule sets them up for an easing in period, as other than a matchup with Auburn the first weekend, the team's next tough games won't be until a month later when they face three NCAA Tournament teams at a tournament hosted by Mississippi State. The team has to travel to Florida Atlantic, but gets in-state rivals Louisville and Kentucky at home.
Projected Postseason:  NCAA Softball Tournament
Returning Leaders:
At Bats: Brooke Holloway, IF, 140
Hits: Brooke Holloway, IF, 35
Home Runs: Brooke Holloway, IF, 4
RBIs: Brooke Holloway, IF, 24
Runs: Brooke Holloway, IF, 22
Stolen Bases: Carleigh Chaumont, IF, 6
Wins: Hannah Parker, P, 6
Innings Pitched: Hannah Parker, P, 56.2
Strikeouts: Hannah Parker, P, 36
Complete Games: Hannah Parker, P, 2