CHARLESTON, S.C. - It will be a familiar foe in the dugout on Thursday morning as Charleston Southern opens up the 2013 Big South Conference Softball Championships in Rock Hill, S.C. at Terry Field as the No. 9 seed Buccaneers will take on the No. 8 seed Presbyterian Blue Hose in an elimination game to see who will advance into the double-elimination play.
The winner of the game between CSU and PC will advance to take on top-seed Coastal Carolina on Thursday afternoon, with first pitch scheduled for 2:30 p.m. The Bucs and the Blue Hose open the tournament with first pitch of their game scheduled for 9 a.m. at the tournament hosted by Winthrop University.
Charleston Southern and Presbyterian battled against each other in two tough contests this past weekend in Clinton, S.C. at the PC Softball Complex with the Buccaneers ultimately proving to be successful in both games, topping the Blue Hose 7-6 in the first game and 7-5 in the nightcap of the doubleheader on Saturday afternoon. Sunday's game was cancelled due to the amount of rainfall in Clinton, with the teams deciding not to make the game up.
The Bucs return to the Big South Conference Championships with unfinished business after last season's heart-breaking loss in the championship game to Coastal Carolina, and though some of the faces have changed, the mission still remains as the Buccaneers look to make an impact and shock the world.
"Our goal back in August was to win a Big South Championship and that hasn't changed even after some of the tough injuries we have had to key players," commented Head Coach Shane Winkler on the season. "I still feel that on any given day we can compete with any team in the Big South and this is our opportunity to try to continue the momentum we started Saturday at Presbyterian and focus on competing for a championship."
CSU boasts a 7-8 record under Winkler during his time at Charleston Southern, including advancing to last season's Big South Conference Championship Game against Coastal Carolina, and have won at least one game in the tournament in each of the past four years. In order to keep the streak alive this season, the Buccaneers will have to go through a team they have had a fair amount of success against in past tournaments.
Charleston Southern and Presbyterian have met twice in the playoffs during the Winkler era at CSU with the Bucs proving to be successful in both instances, in both cases, eliminating the Blue Hose from the postseason.
In 2010, No. 4 seed CSU defeated No. 7 Presbyterian 5-3 in an elimination game as the Buccaneers took advantage of a three-run fifth inning behind an RBI triple by Megan Hall, while Jessica Brock had a two-run home run in the contest to propel the Bucs to the win. The 2011 season also pitted the No. 4 Bucs and No. 3 Blue Hose against each other with the fifth inning again proving to be pivotal with Brock and Jana Matthews both driving in runs in the frame to back a strong pitching performance by Morgan Dowdy in the 2-1 win.
CSU hopes the rule of three comes into effect on Thursday morning as the Bucs seek not only their third win in a row in the playoffs against the Blue Hose, but also their third win of the 2013 season against Presbyterian.
"There will be a lot of pressure on both teams playing in a single elimination game to open the tournament and with us just having played on Saturday, there will be a lot of familiarity with each other," said Winkler on opening up tournament play against Presbyterian. "This game will be all about execution and being able to come up with key hits with runners in scoring position. I like the way we match up with Presbyterian and coming out and scoring early like we did both games this weekend will be key. We had four homeruns in two games against them Saturday and I believe the long ball will play a key factor once again in this game and any other games we are fortunate to play."
Recapping the action on Saturday, Charleston Southern took both games of the doubleheader against Presbyterian as the Bucs used the long ball in the first game behind three home runs between Marci Christian and Natalie Yonan, while Linzy Rother connected on a three-run blast to pace her own strong pitching performance in the second game in leading the Bucs to 7-6 and 7-5 victories over the Blue Hose.
In the first game action, Charleston Southern led off the first, third and fourth innings with solo home runs in support of sophomore right-hander Jennifer Giles in taking the 7-6 victory. Marci Christian connected on a pair of solo home runs in the game to increase her CSU single season record total to 15 on the season, while Natalie Yonan connected on a solo drive to centerfield for her first collegiate home run to lead off the fourth inning as the Bucs held off a late rally by the Blue Hose in picking up the Big South Conference win.
The second game played out similar to the first, with the home run again proving to be a factor as Rother connected on a three-run shot in the top of the first inning and pitched five solid innings in the nightcap. Giles returns in the contest, picking up her second save of the season in hurling two innings of one-hit relief, recording two strikeouts to shut the door on PC's rally in ending the game in favor of CSU.
If the Buccaneers are to prove successful in their potential tournament run, a trio of familiar faces are going to have to lead the way at the plate, while Jennifer Giles will be counted on to shut down the opposition from the mound.
Junior utility player Marci Christian has led the Buccaneers offense in 2013 and has had a season for the ages in the Charleston Southern softball program during her first season wearing the CSU Blue and Gold. Her current numbers stack up very well against a multitude of Charleston Southern single season records as her powerful bat looks to continue to rewrite the record book after shattering the CSU single season home run record, set by Jana Matthews back in 2010.
With two more home runs on Saturday, Christian now has 15 round-trippers on the season, breaking Matthews' record of 12 home runs set back in 2010. Her 15 home runs also puts her in a three-way tie with Erin Kegley (2008-11) and teammate Stephanie Sbardella for fifth all-time in the career record books.
Among the other records she is chasing in the 2013 season include batting average, where she is currently tied for fifth on the year with Jill Shondel (2008) in hitting .360 on the season. She also boasts the top slugging percentage in a single season for the Bucs, at .713 and is one base away from tying Megan Lombard's record of 108 total bases set back in 2010.
For the season, she leads the Bucs offense with 54 hits, eight doubles, 35 runs scored and 32 RBI, while lining up all over the field for Winkler.
"Marci has been a huge addition for us this season," commented Winkler on the immediate impact of the Longwood transfer. "She put in a ton of work in the fall to overhaul her swing and it has paid off. She's a threat to put runs on the board every time she steps to the plate and she'll be a big part off any success we have in the tournament as she's led us offensively all season."
Fellow junior Stephanie Sbardella has also been a potent threat for the Bucs in the lineup this season and joins Christian as one of only four CSU players who have not only played in all 51 games this season, but has also started in all 51 games as well.
Sbardella is hitting .321 on the season and has lined up in the top half of the Buccaneers lineup throughout a majority of the season in complimenting Christian with a potent duo at the top of the order.
The Fairfax Station, Va. native is tied for the team lead with 35 runs scored and is second on the team with 42 hits, contributing seven doubles and eight home runs to the Bucs' efforts on the season, while driving in 27 RBI. She also possesses the top on-base percentage for CSU on the season, getting on base at a .459 clip which would be second in the CSU single season record books if the season ended today. Her on-base numbers have been aided by 25 walks and a team-high 11 hit by pitches as Sbardella rode a career-high 18 game on-base streak early in the season, running from February 16 to March 16.
Senior outfielder Jana Matthews returns to the postseason for her last hurrah as well and has been arguably the hottest hitter on the team over the past six weeks, boosting her batting average from .203 to .279, while connecting on seven of her nine home runs for the season.
The CSU career home run and RBI leader with 34 home runs and 136 runs batted in, Matthews dots the career record books in multiple categories, sitting among the top five in at-bats, hits, doubles, runs scored, slugging percentage, total bases and games played.
She looks to continue building on those marks in the Big South Conference tournament after another strong season, sitting third on the team with 39 hits and 27 runs scored, while added seven doubles, one triple and nine home runs, as well as 29 RBI, sitting with a .536 slugging percentage and a .370 on-base percentage.
Jennifer Giles looks to continue to build on her role as the team ace this season as she also sets her sights on Buccaneers single season record book. The sophomore right-hander from Jupiter, Fla. entered the record book earlier this season in both the Appearance and Starts categories and this past weekend also entered the Strikeouts and Innings Pitched columns, sitting in the top five in all four groupings.
Giles leads the Big South Conference in appearances, starts, innings pitched and complete games, while sitting among the leaders in strikeouts. She currently is tied for second in the CSU single season record book with 46 appearances, matching Morgan Dowdy's mark set in 2011, and adds 122 strikeouts (4th), 37 starts (3rd) and 225.2 innings pitched (tied 4th) to her marks this season.
Five of her eight wins have come in Big South Conference play this season, as she sports a 5-12 record in conference action, hurling 100.1 innings with a 49:61 strikeout-to-walk ratio. She looks to continue to build on the success she's had over the past two weeks in picking up two of CSU's three wins against Gardner-Webb and Presbyterian to pace the Bucs efforts on the mound.
The Buccaneers and Blue Hose begin tournament action on Thursday morning, with first pitch at 9 a.m. at Terry Field on the campus of Winthrop University.