Feb. 9, 2010
EAST LANSING, Mich. - The Michigan State softball team enters the season looking to build off of the core of last year's team as 12 letterwinners, including seven position starters and two starting pitchers, return in 2010. In addition to the experience coming back, MSU head coach Jacquie Joseph considers the incoming freshmen class as one of the best she's ever had.
"We certainly are excited to return a significant number of players who saw quite a bit of playing time last year," said Joseph, the all-time winningest coach in program history who is in her 17th year at the helm of the Spartan program. "We feel good about where we're at and having one senior will certainly bode well for years to come.
"I think it was an excellent recruiting class and I see at least three of them seeing significant time, if not starting, which can be unusual as freshman. They are all real athletic and I expect them all to contribute."
One position where Joseph has her depth chart solidified is at pitcher. Sophomore Lauren Kramer, a strong left hander, saw most of the action a year ago, tallying 38 appearances, ninth most all-time in a single season in program history. A Great Lakes All-Region selection, Kramer led the team in 2009 in wins (10) and innings pitched (151). She also recorded a team-high 21 starts, going the distance in eight of those games, and led the team with two shutouts.
Joseph believes that Kramer possesses the tenacity needed to be successful at the college level as she is the first freshman in her tenure to beat Michigan in her rookie year.
"Lauren had a great second half of the season. I project her to have a really great year this coming season," noted Joseph.
Senior Kelly Confer will also look to see some action toeing the rubber. Confer has seen limited action throughout her career due to various injuries.
Also looking to see some significant innings is freshman Shelby Wise, who arrives in East Lansing courtesy of Jonesboro, Ark., as well as sophomore walk-on Rebecca Rogers.
With Kara Weigle leaving the catcher position vacant due to graduation, MSU will rely on three underclassmen to occupy the open spot. Currently sitting atop of the depth chart is sophomore Brett Williams. Williams saw time in 29 games last year backing up Weigle, and Joseph feels that it is her spot to loose, as she has hopefully learned the ropes of one of the most important positions on the field.
"The catching position is such an important position with taking care of the pitchers. Brett learned the ropes well while learning under Kara, and I look for her to settle into the position as the year goes on," Joseph said.
"We would really like to see Heidi Purtzer excel at this position. She is one who has great hands, but hasn't quite been able to put it together. I feel that this year Heidi is bound to have one of the best years of her career," said Joseph.
Serving as Purtzer's backup at first will be Kramer and Confer, who have both seen action at the corner throughout their careers.
Second base provides the Spartans with a little flexibility. Heading into fall ball, sophomore Ali Grant looked to have the position all locked up, until she suffered an injury. Now, freshmen Jenny Ramsaier and Jayme O'Bryant look to split time early in the season. When Grant returns to the Spartan lineup at full strength, MSU will then have comfort at third base as Grant will allow more flexibility throughout the infield.
"Jenny currently has the nod at second base because Ali currently can't play," Joseph said. "That then forces Jayme over to third base, because Ali can't play third base either right now. However, when Ali comes back healthy, any one of the three could end up at the position for us heading down the stretch."
O'Bryant is currently occupying the hot corner due to the injury to Grant. Also looking to see some action at third base is Bensema. Bensema started 36 games a year ago for the Spartans and adds some needed experience to the position.
"We do have a lot of flexibility at both second and third base this season, so that will definitely help out our team and create some healthy competition throughout the year," said Joseph.
Last year Hansen led the team with 32 runs scored, while also leading the team with three triples. Hansen's most significant contribution was her team-leading 10 home runs and 30 RBIs. Stealing nine bases in 10 attempts allowed Hansen to show her versatility on the bases as well.
"We haven't had a legitimate All-American candidate in several years," said Joseph. "I think Lindsey has the potential to be one of the best, if not the best, to ever play here. She is just a great, great player. It is critical for her to step-up this coming season as she very well could have two freshmen on either side of her, and I would like to think that she has settled in now that she is in her junior year."
Looking to battle for the left field position once again this season is junior Karen Fox and sophomore Lori Padilla. With both seeing action in 2009 it will come down to who provides the biggest contribution offensively.
"Like last year, these two are going to continue to battle it out for the starting role," said Joseph. "They have both improved, but it will depend on who can contribute the most offensively for the team."
Junior Jessica Bracamonte will once again occupy center field, which she has done in nearly every game in her career at MSU.
"Jessica is just a really great outfielder and has seen a majority of the time at center since she arrived here on campus," said Joseph. "She has been having a great offseason thus far and we look for it to continue throughout the year."
Occupying right field will be freshman Kylene Hopkins. The first-year Spartan arrives from Menifee, Calif., where she was the Sunbelt League Offensive Player of the Year her sophomore, junior and senior seasons.
"She has really done a great job coming in this season. She has continuously impressed the coaching staff doing everything that we have asked of her early," noted Joseph.
Also looking to possibly see action as a designated player are Kramer and Confer. In 2009, Kramer totaled 129 at-bats in which she recorded 44 hits, five doubles, six home runs, 20 RBIs, and led the team with a .426 on-base percentage.
"Right now, Ali will certainly have an opportunity to hit in this position early in the year, but she has not been cleared to play defensively," said Joseph. "Melanie Bensema, as well as Kelly Confer and Lauren Kramer, depending on who is pitching, will also have the opportunity to hit in the position. So, we will have flexibility depending on who has the hot stick."
With the team opening the 2010 campaign this weekend at the Lead-off Classic hosted by Stetson University, Joseph feels the season could not be arriving at a better time.
"We are very excited to get going," said Joseph. "Everyone is excited to play someone other than ourselves. The thought of playing in the dirt is something that everyone is excited about."