By Matt Green
Lady Hawks (19-3, 7-1 GSC) @ West Florida (11-13, 4-7 GSC) • 3/16, 2 pm ET DH
Lady Hawks @ No. 2 Valdosta State (20-5, 7-3 GSC) • 3/17, 1 pm ET DH
PENSACOLA, Fla. – They are 19-3 overall, 7-1 in the Gulf South Conference, own a win over No. 3-ranked Indianapolis (18-2) and have pinned the only two losses of the season on fourth-ranked Armstrong (17-2-1).
Still, the Shorter softball team has garnered little respect among its new NCAA Division II counterparts.
The Lady Hawks will have that opportunity this weekend.
Shorter returns to Gulf South Conference play this Saturday and Sunday, March 16 and 17, when it travels south for league doubleheaders against West Florida and Valdosta State.
The Lady Hawks, the 2012 NAIA Softball National Champions, take on the Argos of West Florida (11-13, 4-7) on Saturday before lining up against the defending NCAA Division II National Champions and No. 2-ranked Valdosta State (20-5, 7-3) on Sunday.
Shorter has gotten off to an incredible start in its first season on the Division II level, racing out to wins in 19 of its first 22 games, a stretch that included a 17-game winning streak. The Lady Hawks already own five wins over teams ranked in the NCAA Division II Top 25 Poll – Shorter also swept GSC foe and No. 25-ranked North Alabama earlier this year – and sit atop the GSC standings, a couple games up on the Blazers.
Wins this weekend may finally open the eyes of the Lady Hawks' new league.
To win, Shorter will continue to lean on a stingy pitching staff and an explosive offense that has cranked 24 home runs through 22 games and is averaging six runs per game.
Hurlers Christina Ezell and Maddie Bray lead Shorter's pitching staff with 1.71 and 1.46 ERAs, respectively. Ezell has 79 strikeouts in 61.1 innings pitched and Bray has allowed just 35 hits in 52.2 innings pitched.
Offensively, junior outfielder Kayla Cooper leads Shorter with a .426 batting average to go along with six homers and a team-high 10 doubles and 23 RBI. Senior Bre Johnson has demonstrated her power to the tune of six home runs while Amanda Dailey (5 HR, 19 RBI) and Jackie Castaneda (HR, 19 RBI) have been key cogs in the middle of Shorter's lineup.
In West Florida and Valdosta State, the Lady Hawks face teams that have contrasting styles.
The Argos rely on small ball and the running game, with only four home runs to their credit, but 30 swiped bags, 30 doubles and four players hitting .329 or better. Senior second baseman Kasie Buckely is West Florida's biggest threat, entering the weekend with a .348 average, seven doubles, a homer and 13 RBI.
The Blazers, like Shorter, are fond of the long ball, having stroked 30 home runs in 25 games. Valdosta State hits .350 as a team, led by sophomore utility player Courtney Albritton, who leads her team in average (.414), hits (36), home runs (10) and slugging percentage (.839).
Live stats for each series can be found by visiting the West Florida and Valdosta State websites.