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Preview: Softball unveils new-look park in home opener vs. UAH

Preview: Softball unveils new-look park in home opener vs. UAH

By Jim O'Hara

Lady Hawks (13-1, 4-0 GSC) vs. Alabama-Hunstville (8-8, 1-1 GSC)
Wednesday, March 6; 3 pm (DH); Alto Park Softball Complex

ROME – For the past three weeks, the show has been success on the road.

On Wednesday, however, the Shorter softball team raises the curtain on their home stage for the first time this season when the Lady Hawks begin a long, and tough, home stand when they host Gulf South Conference foe Alabama-Huntsville at their newly-renovated Alto Park Softball Complex for a doubleheader starting at 4 pm.

"We haven't had this kind of start in seven years," Shorter head coach Al Thomas said about the Lady Hawks, who, in their first season as an NCAA Division II program, boast a 13-1 overall record, share the top spot in the GSC with a perfect 4-0 slate and have won 12 straight outings.

"The team is playing well right now," the coach said, "but we know that it doesn't get any easier. This conference is so tough. All of the coaches I've talked to in the conference refer to the GSC as the SEC of Division II. You just can't take a break or play poorly if you expect to win. You have to be ready to play not just in every game, but every inning."

So far, the Lady Hawks have kept that in mind and will continue to do so over the next week when they get some stiff tests at home.

The Lady Hawks' road success has included some impressive performances, including a victory over No. 6-ranked Indianapolis and two wins over No. 20 Armstrong Atlantic.

After the showdown with UAH, Shorter entertains former Southern States Athletic Conference opponent Southern Wesleyan on Friday in a non-conference twinbill, hosts GSC opponents North Alabama – the Lady Lions are fresh from upending top-ranked and defending national champion Valdosta State last week – on Saturday and Union on Sunday, then caps the stand renewing its rivalry with NAIA power Lee on March 13.

"We've had different people step up," said Thomas. "In every game we've had someone different contribute."

Balance is clearly the buzz word at the plate thus far for the Lady Hawks, who have outscored foes 74-15 and, as a team, are hitting .345.

Leading the offensive charge is junior Kayla Cooper, who leads the team with a .500 batting average (21-for-42), an incredible 1.024 slugging percentage and has a team-best seven doubles, five homers and 18 RBI.

Freshman Kendall Johnson has also found the hitting groove carrying a .375 batting average with two home runs and 10 RBI, while juniors Jackie Castaneda (.378) and Felicia Morris (.317) have added more firepower.

While the Lady Hawks have put up solid numbers when they have the bat in their hands, Shorter's talented and deep pitching staff continues to keep those they face in the circle in check, with opponents hitting just .211.

Sophomore Maddie Bray has had five starts so far this season, putting up a 3-1 record and a 0.93 ERA, while junior Christina Ezell is 5-0 when she toes the rubber, has a 1.18 ERA and leads the team with 51 strikeouts through 35.2 innings pitched.

Junior Kristen Little has also produced a strong start having notched a 3-0 record – all three are complete-game wins – and an anemic 0.37 ERA, and sophomore Kayla Byrom is 2-0 with a 1.11 ERA.

"Our pitching has kept us in every game," Thomas said about the Shorter staff, which has a combined 0.92 ERA. "Everyone is getting an opportunity."

When the Lady Hawks finally take the field on their own diamond, they will do so at their home at Alto Park that has taken on a new look that includes a new scoreboard, more foul territory, an outfield fence that is now 12-feet high and is fronted by a new warning track, more room behind home plate, and improvements to the dugouts and bullpens.

"Without the help of the City, the County and Todd Wofford and the entire Parks and Recreation Department," Thomas said about the changes, "this couldn't have been done. It's drop-dead gorgeous."

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