CHARLESTON, S.C. - Charleston Southern softball opens up Big South Conference play this week as the Buccaneers make the trip up the road to Rock Hill, S.C., to face Winthrop University on Wednesday and Thursday evening at Terry Field on the campus of Winthrop.
First pitch on both days between the Bucs and the Eagles is set for 5 p.m. with Wednesday featuring a doubleheader between CSU and WU, while Thursday's contest is the series finale. Live Stats are provided at www.winthropeagles.com, while video will be streamed live on the Big South Network courtesy of State Farm.
The Big South Conference opener for both teams, the early date of March 12 and 13 is the conference opener for all teams in the Big South as the Buccaneers and Eagles matchup features the teams selected No. 4 and No. 5 in the preseason Big South Coaches' Poll.
"I'm excited to get Big South play started," commented head coach Shane Winkler on the start of Big South play. "We challenged the girls with a very demanding schedule including games against a couple of the top teams in the country and we've completed very well. At times, we have been very good offensively, defensively and in the circle. The focus is to try to put all three together as much as possible the rest of the way in order to compete for a Big South Championship. We have a ton of potential and a group that keeps getting better every time out. It's going to be a fun Big South season!"
Winthrop was selected fourth in the poll receiving 46 votes one season after finishing 28-29, 12-12 in Big South action on the year. The Eagles made it all the way to the Big South Conference Championship game before falling to Longwood in the tournament finale.
Charleston Southern was selected close behind in the poll in the No. 5 spot, earning a first place vote in receiving 43 total votes in the count. The Buccaneers finished the Big South tournament last season on the second day, topping Presbyterian and Coastal Carolina on the first day, before bowing out after losses both Winthrop and Longwood.
Jessica Brock leads the Charleston Southern offense on the season as the senior from Puyallup, Wash., has made her mark at the plate with a team-high .360 batting average and 27 hits, while also leading the team with seven doubles on the year. Brock has eight multi-hit games on the season including a pair of three-hit performances against both Elon and UCLA on the year.
Natalie Yonan has also continued her recent hot streak from the plate, boosting her average up to .296 on the season with 16 hits in 54 at-bats, as well as four doubles on the season. Yonan has been clutch several times this season with the game-winning RBI double against Eastern Illinois, as well as doubles against Elon, Appalachian State and UNLV.
Sbardella is tied for the team lead with seven doubles and is second on the team with 21 hits, while Matsumoto is the team leader with 14 runs scored and eight stolen bases. DeLio is sporting a .265 batting average while taking over as the primary clean-up batter for the Bucs over the past few weeks.
Inside the circle, freshman right-hander Cheyenne Gandara has been a force to be reckoned with for the Bucs over the first part of the season, leading CSU with a 2.20 ERA and five victories on the rubber. She is also among the Big South leaders with 60 strikeouts on the season and is coming off of her second complete game of the year in recording the 2-1 win over Cal State Northridge.
Junior Jennifer Giles and senior Morgan Dowdy are also expected to see time inside the circle for the Bucs against the Eagles with Giles hurling two complete games in sporting a 2.51 ERA on the season. Dowdy also has a complete game under her belt on the year and continues to be a strong presence on the mound in her final season with the Buccaneers.
Facing off against Charleston Southern is one of the hottest teams in the country right now as the Eagles enter the week boasting an eight-game winning streak with wins over Robert Morris, Northern Colorado, Cleveland State, Wagner, Youngstown State, Wright State, Eastern Kentucky and Marist. For the season, Winthrop is 11-10 overall on the year.
Senior infielder Mel Andrea earned the Big South Player of the Week award this past week after hitting .571 over the weekend with eight hits and six RBI. She also has a seven-game hitting streak currently. Andrea is currently hitting .333 on the season with 21 hits and 17 RBI. Senior McKenzie Corn leads the Eagles at the plate with a .410 batting average through 21 games with 25 hits and has driven in 10 runs.
In the circle, the Eagles have gotten good production out of each of their pitchers. Over the weekend Sutton Watson picked up two victories, one as a started and one in relief. Dallas King and Sara Allen each recorded a win while Allen also picked up a save. In 28 innings of work over the weekend, the pitching trio allowed only 23 hits and 14 runs.
Last season Winthrop picked up wins in all four games against the Buccaneers, sweeping the season series at Buccaneer Field and winning 2-1 in the Big South Conference Tournament.