SOFTBALL OUTLOOK -- Techsters Open Season Friday
Feb. 4, 2013
Louisiana Tech heads into the 2013 season with plenty of excitement surrounding the program as the Lady Techsters and head coach Mark Montgomery prepare for what could be a memorable season.
Montgomery enters his first season at the helm of the program as the longtime collegiate coaching veteran comes to Ruston after spending the past two seasons rebuilding at Northern Colorado.
He inherits a roster that returns plenty of experience from last year's team that posted a 25-33 record and that ended the season by making some noise in the Western Athletic Conference Tournament, defeating annual NCAA Tournament participant Fresno State in record-setting fashion as well as Nevada.
Montgomery, who is familiar with the north Louisiana area from his nearly decade of work at Centenary College in Shreveport, will put his own touches on a program that will be competing in a much different looking Western Athletic Conference.
The WAC - which will host its postseason tournament in Ruston from May 8-11 - said goodbye to Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada following last season. However, it welcomes four new teams in Seattle, Texas State, UTSA and UT Arlington to go along with LA Tech, San Jose State, Utah State and New Mexico State to comprise the eight-team league.
Montgomery and Co. will also benefit from some much-needed renovations to the Lady Techster Softball Complex which will include new stand, press box, bathrooms, ticket office and concession stands.
When the Lady Techsters open up the season in early February at the Jimmy John's Lion Classic in Hammond, they will do so with their eyes set on competing for the program's first ever WAC regular season title in its last year as a member of the league (LA Tech makes the all-sports move to Conference USA on July 1).
"How nice it is to come into a situation with veteran pitching," Montgomery said. "All of our girls are mature and have been in tough situations before. That experience will bode well as we go through the season.
"That's a real strength of this team. The ability to have the depth to pitch two games in a day or five games in a weekend and not show the same team the same thing over and over again. That is exciting. They complement each other which is a tremendous asset. You will see a lot of pitching match-ups and situational pitching that goes on and allows us to maximize the abilities we do have and to beat a lot of really good teams."
Jones served as the ace of the staff last year, registering a 15-16 record with a 2.86 earned run average. After seeing limited action in the circle her first two years, Jones shouldered the bulk of the load, logging 200.2 innings of action while making 32 starts and registering 24 complete game performances.
"I think I would still tell you that Michelle is still our No.1," Montgomery said. "By the end of the year she will probably have thrown more innings (than anyone else), but I don't think we will ask Michelle to pitch the seven inning match-ups as much as she used to throw. You will see her throw four or five innings and then make way for middle relief for an inning or two and then possibly a closer in the last inning.
"Michelle throws hard and keeps the ball down," Montgomery said. "She can work both sides of the plate effectively and gives us a great chance to win each time she has the ball in her hand."
As a junior, Jones tossed three complete-game shutouts in wins over UTEP, Eastern Illinois and New Mexico State, with the latter snapping a streak of 81 straight WAC games in which the Aggies had scored at least one run. She also posted impressive wins in the circle over Penn State, BYU and Fresno State.
Frandrup also saw more action in the circle her junior season as she posted a 3-4 record with a 1.96 earned run average. In 17 appearances, she made four starts and recorded two complete-game performances while logging 53.2 innings of action.
"Janna is a true bulldog in the circle," Montgomery said. "She is so determined and with her great changeup and movement provides a great complement to the rest of our staff. Janna is also a top hitter for us and will be in the lineup many days even when not pitching."
The Phoenix, Arizona native earned starts against some of the top teams in the country last year, including Hawaii, UL-Lafayette and Baylor. She tossed 5.0 innings against the nationally-ranked Cajuns, allowing only one unearned run. Frandrup picked up wins over Southern Miss, New Mexico State and Nevada.
Frandrup will also see time in the batting order after a junior season that saw her record a .277 averaging with five doubles and three home runs. She possesses one of the best eyes for the strike zone in the country as she drew 38 walks while striking out only 14 times during her junior season.
Kipp recorded the second most time in the circle behind Jones last year as she registered a 5-7 record with a 5.56 earned run average. She made 11 starts and 17 total appearances while logging 61.2 innings of action.
"Erin can work both sides of the plate and also brings the rise ball as an effective pitch," Montgomery said. "She will allow us an option to show many different looks to our opposition."
The Bullard, Texas native posted wins against UT Arlington, New Mexico State, Stephen F. Austin, Eastern Illinois and Mississippi Valley State. Her top performance came in a complete-game shutout over UT Arlington.
Offensively, Kipp will also see time in the Tech lineup after batting .281 with six doubles and three home runs as a sophomore. She recorded eight multi-hit games, including a team-best four games of three or more hits. She tied a LA Tech single game record (which was broken later in the year) with six RBI in a 10-1 win over Utah State.
Goff rounds out the LA Tech pitching staff as the senior recorded a 2-6 record with a 5.69 earned run average during her first year in a Lady Techster uniform. The first team all-WAC honoree made 11 starts and 15 appearances while totaling 59.0 innings of action in the circle.
"Melanie is a great hitter, who can play so many different positions," Montgomery said. "She is a true utility player and will not only pitch at times, but will also fill in at both infield and outfield positions. Her versatility will allow us to maximize our other player's abilities."
Goff made her Division I pitching debut against nationally-ranked Michigan and allowed only one hit and no runs in 3.0 innings of action. She also recorded a complete-game victory at Fresno State, allowing only two earned runs on six hits and no walks.
The San Diego, Calif. native also proved to be one of the nation's top hitters last year, earning the Louisiana Sports Writers Association Newcomer of the Year honors. Goff, who walked 23 times while striking out only 16 times, led Tech with a .409 batting average which included 14 doubles and two home runs. She set a LA Tech and WAC Tournament single game record by scoring five runs in the Lady Techsters 17-7 win over Fresno State.
Another area that the Lady Techsters will return plenty of experience is in the infield where LA Tech returns 262 out of 290 starts in the five infield positions from last year's team, plus adds a couple of freshman who should see significant playing time.
"We do have all returners back but Hailey is out for a while and Mel will be out a few weeks," Montgomery said. "When those two return it will help us defensively. Meanwhile we will rely on Courtney (Lowe) and Anna (Cross) to play defensively; they are both learning and are new.
"It is great to have the veteran leadership of Meghan (Knowles) at first base and Amanda (Krueger) at second base. They shore things up. It's just learning how to work as a unit. When one piece of that unit is out, we don't want to miss a beat. We want to be just as good with our backups at each position and that is what we are working towards."
Senior Meghan Knowles is a three-year starter at first base where she provides top-notch defensive skills along with some power in the Lady Techster lineup. In 2012, Knowles committed only three errors and posted a .988 fielding percentage.
"Megan Knowles brings stability and experience to first base for us this season," Montgomery said. "She is a rock defensively and will drive in some key runs offensively for us."
As a junior Knowles batted .214 with three doubles and a team-high eight home runs while she significantly cut down on her strike outs from previous seasons. Knowles, who earned WAC All-Tournament accolades for her play during the post-season tournament, registered six of her eight home runs in the second half of the season, including three against first team all-WAC pitcher Michelle Moses in the final week of the season.
Senior Amanda Krueger returns for her final year after starting 57 of 58 games at second base last year for Louisiana Tech - her first season in a Lady Techster uniform.
"Amanda is a true leader," Montgomery said. "She motivates her teammates to be better by working harder than anyone. She has a tireless effort that is contagious and inspiring."
Krueger registered a .282 batting average with 13 doubles and two home runs and showed incredible discipline at the plate, drawing 33 walks while striking out only 19 times. The Warren, Oregon native scored 44 runs which were the second most in program history, and only two shy of tying the program single season record. She hit the game-winning solo home run in the bottom of the sixth in a 6-5 win over Nevada in the WAC Tournament.
Although Jones and Goff spearheaded the shortstop position last year for LA Tech, Montgomery is looking at a true freshman to possibly take over the responsibilities this year as Anna Cross is the odds-on favorite to start.
"There is no greater athlete than Anna," Montgomery said. "She can pitch and probably throws harder than anyone else on the team, but will need to sacrifice that in order to provide this team with stability at the shortstop position this season."
Cross signed with Tech out of Cross Roads High School in Texas where she batted over .600 as a junior with 18 extra base hits. The multi-sport star (she also played volleyball, basketball and ran track and field) was named the District 21-1A MVP as a sophomore and junior and was all-state as a junior.
"Hailey has such good hands," Montgomery said. "As she continues to work on her range look for her to have an amazing year."
As a freshman Winter started 37 games at third base and committed only four errors all season while registering a .967 fielding percentage. Offensively, she struggled at times with the transition to the Division I level but did record a career-high two hits in a win over Big 10 foe Penn State.
Lowe signed at Tech out of Junction City High School and could also see time behind the plate in addition to at third base.
"Courtney adds depth to our infield and catching position." Montgomery said. "She has a canon for an arm and as her experience increases look for her to contribute more and more."
Lowe helped lead the Dragons to the District 8-2A title four straight years while also leading Junction City to the Arkansas Class 2A state title in 2012. She was named Arkansas Class 2A all-state four straight years and the El Dorado Times Player of the Year in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
"Alayna is a powerful catcher with so many tools," Montgomery said. "She is big and strong and deceptively fast. Look for her to be one of our top power producers and to really provide a strong presence behind the dish defensively."
As a freshman, Kipp made 51 starts for Tech, batting .197 with two doubles and five home runs. The Bullard, Texas native gunned down some of the Western Athletic Conference's top base runners during the season, including NMSU's Amber Olive, BYU's Jessica Dugas and Nevada's Karley Hopkins. She hit the game-winning two-run home run in a win over George Washington and the go-ahead three-run shot in a win over New Mexico State.
Montgomery also has the luxury of having infield experience with three of his pitchers as Jones, Goff and Frandrup all started 25 or more games on the dirt last year, including starts at every infield position except catcher.
Despite all of the experience returning in the circle and around the infield, a case could be made that the Lady Techster outfield might have the most versatility and upside.
Although Tech graduated seniors Kendra Harmon and Charday Wilson following last year, the Lady Techsters boast six healthy outfielders and two more pitchers that have the ability to help in the outfield if needed.
"This is probably our strongest suit," Montgomery said. "We can mix our outfield to gain lefty or righty hitting matchups or have versatility to gain an offensive or defensive presence as individual game situations might dictate."
Tech will be without the services of junior Katelynn Hill this season after she underwent shoulder surgery during the winter. Hill, who batted .262 with seven home runs last year, will res-shirt 2013 and will return for her junior year in 2014.
"Katelynn is redshirting due to an arm injury, but that didn't stop her from impressing us with her leadership and her hitting (prior to her surgery)," Montgomery said. "I look for her to be back with a vengeance next season."
Senior Dacia Hale ended her junior season with a bang, blasting three home runs and tying an NCAA Division I record with 11 RBI in LA Tech's 17-7 win over Fresno State in the WAC Tournament.
"Dacia is the real leader in the outfield," Montgomery said. "Look for her to not only make some amazing defensive lays in centerfield, but to also provide some offensive pop to a strong lineup."
Hale, who was featured on ESPNU's SportsCenter for her performance against Fresno State, batted .233 last year with four doubles, two triples and a team-best eight home runs while scoring 25 runs and driving in a team-high 31. She also stole seven bases during the year while making 50 starts in centerfield and two more in left field.
Freshman Kristen Miles opened some eyes with her performance during the fall as the speedy outfielder should see plenty of action during her first year of college softball.
"Kristen is a newcomer with so much potential," Montgomery said. "She is an amazing slapper with great speed and is getting better each day defensively."
Miles signed with Tech out of Plano Senior High School where she helped lead the program to the District 8-5A title and the Texas Region I championship as a junior. She helped lead Plano to a national ranking as a junior while registering single season school records with a .543 batting average and 85 hits. She was also a perfect 26-of-26 in stolen base attempts. She earned numerous accolades including all-state and all-region honors as both a junior and a senior.
Sophomore Janine Godwin is one of the top defensive outfielders on the LA Tech squad and returns for her second season after making 10 starts as a freshman.
"Janine provides an excellent defensive presence and speed to our outfield game," Montgomery said. "She gets fantastic jumps and should be out there in crucial defensive situations."
Godwin saw action in 41 games in 2012, mostly as a pinch runner, while collecting four hits in 26 plate appearances. She scored 11 runs for the Lady Techsters and recorded her first collegiate hit in a win over Southern Miss.
Junior Cassie Krieg boasts one of the most potent bats among the LA Tech outfielders and should not only see some playing time in the outfield, but also plenty of pinch-hitting opportunities during the year.
"Cassie brings an explosive left handed bat to the lineup," Montgomery said. "She will see some time in the outfield but look for her to have a serious impact at the plate."
After batting an impressive .300 in 70 at bats as a true freshman in 2011, Krieg saw fewer opportunities last year where she collected just two hits in 24 plate appearances. The Sonora, Texas native did record both hits and her lone RBI on the season in WAC play and is expected to get more playing time this year.
Cantu signed out of Celina High School in Texas where she helped lead the program to four straight district titles and the Texas 3A state title game in 2009 and 2011.
"Claudia brings a solid left-handed bat to the outfield lineup and maximizes our team's flexibility to make key moves late in a game to be successful," Montgomery said.
Cantu earned numerous accolades during her high school career, including honorable mention all-state as a junior and senior and first team all-district as a senior.
Cook originally signed with Montgomery at Northern Colorado, but requested her release from the scholarship and has followed him to Ruston.
"Katelynn joining us will provide depth and stability to our outfield," Montgomery said. "She is one of the most consistent players I have seen play and will continue to grow in both her offense and defense skill sets."
Cook prepped at Chowchilla Union High School in California where she helped deliver the program's first Central Section Division 4 title since 1994. As a junior she batted .419 with 20 RBI and as a senior she batted .415 with a .769 slugging percentage. She was named first team all-league in both 2010 and 2011.
Montgomery said he could also use Goff in the outfield, giving him even more options.