CHARLESTON, S.C. - Eight days away from Opening Day for the Charleston Southern softball team as the Buccaneers continue their preparations for the opening Wingate by Wyndham Invitational hosted at the CSU Softball Field. Head Coach Shane Winkler returns for his 10th season at the helm of the Bucs heading into the 2018 season and is looking forward to another strong performance from his deep group of pitchers and the power bats of his 2018 catching corps.
Things to Watch from the Pitchers/Catchers
Pilgrim/Clark providing veteran presence in the circle
Junior Arizona Pilgrim and sophomore Holly Clark return to reprise a veteran presence for a young pitching staff in the circle in the 2018 season. The duo combined for 74 appearances and 36 starts over CSU's 62 games, as well as throwing 254.0 of the Bucs' 406.0 innings pitched last season. Pilgrim led the Bucs' pitching staff with nine wins in 2018, including her first collegiate no-hitter on March 21, 2017, in CSU's 7-0 win over South Carolina State. Clark, a 2017 Big South All-Freshman selection, led the team with 40 appearances and 85 strikeouts, adding nine complete games and a pair of shutouts. The duo will be in full force this season to help guide a pitching staff that includes three true freshmen in Heinrich, Del Rio, and Visnic.
Emberson's power stroke among the Big South's best
Junior catcher Caitlyn Emberson brings her big bat back to the middle of the CSU lineup in the 2018 season after finishing fourth in the Big South and second on the Bucs with 11 home runs. The Taft, Calif. native has connected on 20 home runs over her two seasons at CSU, good enough to sit tied for sixth all-time in Buccaneer history in the category. Her hitting prowess, as well as her bat control, put her third in the Big South in on-base percentage (.444). Emberson also took one for the team on more than one occasion last year in leading the nation after being hit by 28 pitches. A two-time All-Conference selection, Emberson boasts a .297 career batting average at the plate.
Rock and fire – Newcomers looking to make an impact
The talented trio of newcomers will be making their debut in the circle for the Bucs this season as Alyssa Heinrich, Nina Del Rio, and Emily Visnic will all see time on the rubber for CSU. Heinrich, a Wando graduate, was a two-time Lower State Finalist and earned All-Lowcountry Co-Player of the Year honors in her senior season. Del Rio showcased her all-around skills at Brea Olinda High School and the Firecrackers Lutterloh club team, earning Pitcher, MVP, and Offensive Player of the Year honors multiple times throughout her career. Visnic, a Millers Creek, N.C. native, was a member of the 1A State Championship team at West Wilkes High School. She was also a standout on the track team, finishing among the tops in the state in shot put.
Kasinger's veteran presence plays a key role
Seeing more time at catcher this season, Mallory Kasinger returns for her sophomore season in the CSU lineup. Kasinger's bat made an immediate impact in the lineup as the Riverside, Calif. native opened the year with a bang, connecting on home runs in each of her first three games of the season. She earned All-Freshman honors and finished seventh in the conference with eight home runs on the year while adding five doubles. She showed off her prowess on the infield as well as leading the Bucs with 89 assists. Joining Jade Gandara and Caitlyn Emberson, Kasinger returns as one of three players who lined up in at least 59 games in the 2017 season.
Senior Profile – Nicole Ayala
The lone senior returning in the circle for the Bucs in 2018, Nicole Ayala has managed to leave her mark in each of her previous two seasons with CSU. After coming to the Bucs in the 2016 season after spending her freshman year at Southeastern Louisiana, Ayala has accumulated 12 scoreless appearances over the past two years to help the Bucs pitching efforts. Blending a combination of placement and different delivery styles to help throw off opponent timing in the box, Ayala looks to help further bolster the Buccaneers' pitching efforts in her senior year.
"Nice thing about our pitching staff is that we have six of them. We have a great compliment for a lot of them as well. We don't expect to have many games where we go out there and throw someone for seven innings. We have kids capable of going down and shutting down teams, and then make a change when we need to keep teams off balance. That's going to be the key this year with our coaching staff is knowing when to make the changes beforehand, rather than too late." – Coach Winkler on his deep pitching staff.
"We transitioned Mallory back there early this year to give us depth, and she's grown a ton behind the plate. There's going to come a day where she's going to be a very, very special catcher. She's got one of the strongest arms in the team, once we continue to work on her fundamentally and get quicker, she's going to look like she was born to play the position. Caitlyn will see a lot of time back there with a lot of experience and Hannah adds depth as well." – Coach Winkler on the catching corps heading into the 2018 season.
3.84 – The Combined ERA of the CSU pitching staff in the 2017 season paced by Arizona Pilgrim's 3.18 in the circle.
11 – Home runs and doubles hit by Caitlyn Emberson in her sophomore season at the heart of the CSU lineup. She added three multi-home run games against Marist, Alabama State, and Radford.
78 – Combined appearances by the pitching trio of Clark, Pilgrim, and Ayala in the 2017 season.
85 – Strikeouts for Clark in the 2017 season led the Bucs in the category.