SB Preview: Buccaneers make first road trip of the season to the Tennessee Invitational

SB Preview: Buccaneers make first road trip of the season to the Tennessee Invitational

CHARLESTON, S.C. - Charleston Southern makes its first road trip of the season this weekend as the Buccaneers make the trek to Knoxville, Tenn. and Sherri Parker Lee Stadium as CSU takes on South Alabama, Tennessee, and Toledo at the Tennessee Invitational on March 2-4.

The Bucs take on the Jaguars, Volunteers, and the Rockets over the weekend as CSU looks to continue its early-season success. The Bucs posted winning records over each of the first three weekends, including going a perfect 6-0 this past weekend at the Willie Jewell's Invitational. The Bucs boast a Winkler-era high eight-game winning streak heading into the weekend.

CSU Game Notes - Tennessee Invitational

Each of the four teams will face each other in a round-robin tournament style format over the first six games of the weekend before taking part in seeded games the rest of the way. Championship game for the weekend is set for 12:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, while the consolation game on Sunday morning is set for 9:30 a.m.

The matchup between the Jaguars and the Bucs to open the weekend will be just the third time the teams have faced off against each other in program history. The Bucs' afternoon matchup against the Volunteers also serves as UT's 2018 home opener and is CSU's first appearance in Knoxville since the 2014 NCAA Regional matchup between the two squads. The Bucs and Toledo feature a number of familiar faces across the dugouts and played each other four times in Hawaii in the 2017 season.

Live stats for all games this weekend can be accessed on the CSU Softball schedule page. The Bucs' game against the Volunteers will be streamed live via the SEC Network Plus.

Facing South Alabama
Charleston Southern faces a battle-tested opponent in the Buccaneers' opener against South Alabama on Friday morning as the Buccaneers take on the Jaguars at 10 a.m. The Jags have already taken on at least seven teams in their preseason tournament slate that are either receiving votes or are ranked in the two NCAA polls, including picking up a 3-1 win over 9/7 Florida State on February 21 in Mobile, Ala.

The Jaguars were picked fourth overall in the preseason Sun Belt poll after a 2017 season that saw South Alabama boast a 35-20 overall record and 15-12 mark in conference play. Three USA players were selected to the preseason All-Sun Belt team including senior pitcher Devin Brown and senior middle infielders Kaleigh Todd and Kristian Foster.

Through the early part of the season, Brown has once again reprised her role as the ace of the staff. The senior right-hander has made a team-high 11 appearances and five complete games to go with a 5-4 record and 2.38 ERA. Alexis Reid has also made multiple appearances in the circle, including a team-high eight starts to go with a 3.39 ERA in 41.1 innings' pitched.

Brittani Reid boasts the team's highest batting average on the year with a .267 average through 14 games played. Abby Krzywiecki boasts the power with a team-high two home runs, while Kristin Foster has a team-high 11 hits, including three doubles.

Charleston Southern has faced the Jaguars twice in head coach Shane Winkler's tenure. The Bucs took on USA in the 2010 season, falling at the Georgia Tournament, 8-3. CSU also fell to the Jaguars in the 2015 season at South Carolina's tournament, 3-2. None of the current CSU roster has faced USA.

Facing Tennessee
Tennessee is the highest-ranked team the Buccaneers are scheduled to face in the 2018 regular season as CSU takes on the host Volunteers on Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. The Bucs' last visit to Knoxville came in the 2014 NCAA Regional with CSU falling 12-3 to the Volunteers in their first postseason game in program history.

CSU will be UT's opener on the weekend as the No. 5/5 Volunteers welcome Toledo, CSU, and South Alabama to Sherri Parker Lee Stadium. UT boasts a 16-1 overall record on the season with the lone loss coming to Florida Atlantic at the Michele Smith Tournament in Clearwater, Fla., a 3-2 setback against the Owls.

Tennessee was picked second overall in the SEC Preseason Coaches' poll with the Volunteers receiving 119 votes and one first place vote after advancing to the NCAA Knoxville Super Regional in 2017. Senior infielder Meghan Gregg was the lone Volunteer on the SEC Preseason All-Conference team.

Gregg has been the difference-maker at the plate early for UT with the senior batting .500 with a team-high 27 hits, six doubles, five home runs, and 24 RBI. Scarlet McSwain has added pop with four home runs, while Aubrey Leach is a difference-maker on the base paths with 23 runs scored to go with a team-high four stolen bases.

Matty Motts and Caylan Arnold lead UT's pitching efforts on the year with the duo combining to record 27 appearances and 14 starts in the season. Motts boasts an 8-1 record and a 1.14 ERA, while Arnold comes into the weekend with a 1.43 ERA and a perfect 6-0 mark in the circle.

The Bucs are 0-4 all-time against the Volunteers with the first matchup coming in the 2005 season at the Georgia Southern Tournament. UT has played two games at CSU with both coming in the 2013 season.

Facing Toledo
Familiar faces and an opponent the Buccaneers have faced in two of the last three seasons will take the opposite dugout when the Bucs close out the last of the three scheduled games against the Rockets on Saturday morning at 10 a.m. Head Coach Kristen Butler and Assistant Coach Brandon Duncon both served as CSU pitching coaches on Shane Winkler's staff. Volunteer assistant coach Natalie Yonan lined up for the Bucs over the 2013-16 seasons.

Toledo boasts a 7-3 overall record heading into the Tennessee Invitational with winning marks at both the Dot Richardson's NCSI and the WKU Hilltopper Classic. The Rockets were picked fifth in the West Division in the MAC preseason softball poll after posting a 24-34 overall record in 2017.

Freshman catcher Bailey Curry leads the Rockets' offense early in the year with a team-high .375 batting average to go with 12 hits and a pair of home runs. Freshman shortstop Kylie Norwood is also hitting above .300 over the first 10 games of the year with a .355 mark to go with a team-high five runs scored.

Junior Kailey Minarchick returns to the circle and leads the Rockets' pitching efforts with a team-high eight appearances. She boasts a 4-1 record and a 1.09 ERA while posting a 15:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Heather Webb has made a team-high four starts to go with a 3-1 record and a 0.88 ERA.

The Bucs fell four times to the Rockets last season in Honolulu, Hawaii as the two teams were out west for the Coca-Cola Malihini Kipa Aloha Tournament (March 3-5, 2017), and the Outrigger Resorts Spring Fling (March 8-11).

Quick Hits
>Jade Gandara continues to swing a hot bat in the CSU lineup as the junior slugger paces the Bucs in batting average (.478), hits (22), runs (16), home runs (6) and RBI (22). She is also one of the toughest players in the nation to strikeout recording only one in her 46 at-bats.
>Mallory Kasinger and Caitlyn Emberson lead the Bucs with six doubles apiece on the season. Kasinger is second on the team in hits (17) and RBI (15), while Emberson is tied with Gandara for the team lead with 16 runs scored.
>Five newcomers and eight players overall have hit home runs in the 2018 season as Annie Bakenhus joined the group this past weekend. Freshmen Nina Del Rio (4) and Sarah Brown 93) have provided pop in the middle of the lineup for Coach Winkler.
>Meghan Gagliano leads a speedy CSU lineup with a team-high 10 stolen bases in 12 attempts on the year. Four different CSU players have recorded multiple steals on the season with Annie Bakenhus (5), Kendall Anderson (3), and Sarah Brown (3) all showing their athleticism on the base paths.
>Holly Clark leads a deep CSU pitching staff with a team-high three shutouts in her seven starts in 2018.
>Three different CSU pitchers have accounted for all of CSU's wins-losses in the 2018 season with Clark (4-1), Alyssa Heinrich (4-1), and Arizona Pilgrim (4-1) all boasting matching records in the circle.

Recapping CSU's Early Schedule
Thanks to a favorable tournament slate that saw CSU host its first 16 games in the friendly confines of the CSU Softball Field, the Buccaneers enter the weekend with a 13-3 record following Wednesday's win over St. Bonaventure. CSU opened the year with a trio of the wins at the opening Wingate by Wyndham Invitational and then followed with three more wins the ensuing weekend at the Buccaneer Invitational. Thanks to the perfect 6-0 mark at the Willie Jewell's Invitational, the Bucs boast a Winkler-era best eight-game winning streak heading into the Tennessee Invitational, their first true road test of the season.

The Bucs' Jade Gandara captured a pair of conference Player of the Week nods over the first three weeks of the season, while sophomore ace Holly Clark is the reigning Big South Pitcher of the Week thanks to her efforts this past weekend. The Bucs combined to hit 22 home runs over the first 15 games of the year, sitting tied for fifth overall in the NCAA in total home runs over the first three weekends.

Tough Tournament Slate
Similar to most schools around the country, Charleston Southern takes on a challenging preseason slate as the Buccaneers will compete in five separate tournaments prior to opening Big South Conference play on March 16. Along with CSU's three home tournaments, the Bucs will also compete at the Tennessee Invitational hosted by Tennessee and the Holy City Showdown hosted by College of Charleston. Tennessee is the highest-ranked opponent on the schedule heading into the season as the Volunteers were selected 11/12 overall in the two major polls. The Volunteers are coming off another trip to the NCAA Super Regional before falling to Texas A&M.

NCAA Top 25 Team Categories
Thanks to the power surge this past weekend that featured 12 home runs and more than 20 extra base hits, Charleston Southern moved into the top 10 in home runs per game and slugging percentage on the season. The Bucs entered the week tied for fifth overall in total home runs (22) and are fifth in team home runs per game at 1.47. CSU is also fifth in slugging percentage at .595 on the season.

Eight different players in the CSU lineup are hitting above .300 on the year to help the Bucs move to 17th in the country with a team batting average of .337. The Bucs' offensive binge also put CSU 15th in the country in scoring with 6.93 runs per game. CSU is also 25th in the country in on-base percentage at .410. CSU also made moves in the stolen base game as the Bucs are 36th in the country with 1.80 steals per game.

Putting Up Runs in a Hurry
Charleston Southern's offense has been the nation's best in putting up runs in the early portion of the 2018 season as the Buccaneers entered the week pacing the Big South with 6.93 runs per game. The Bucs' mark is also 15th in the country in runs scoring per game. CSU has put up less than four runs just twice in the 2018 season and has eclipsed eight runs on seven separate occasions, including 15 in CSU's five-inning victory over Towson on February 10, and 12 runs on February 23 against George Mason. The Bucs have run-ruled opponents on five separate occasions this season and currently are one of two conference teams to be hitting above .300 at .337.

Opponents Can't Score
Not only has Charleston Southern been effective offensively in the 2018 season, the Buccaneers have been nearly as effective in keeping opponents off the scoreboard. CSU has posted five shutouts over the first 16 games of the season and have held opponents under four runs in 10 different games on the year. The Bucs lead the conference with a Big South-best 1.89 ERA on the season paced by Holly Clark's 1.33 mark for the year. Arizona Pilgrim (1.99) and Alyssa Heinrich (1.99) are also in the top 10 in the conference in the individual category on the year, while Clark and Pilgrim are also in the top six in the Big South in opponent batting average.

Big South Player of the Week
Jade Gandara earned the recognition for the second time this season after leading Charleston Southern to a perfect 6-0 record this past weekend at the Willie Jewell's Invitational at the CSU Softball Field. Gandara led CSU's offense with eight hits, seven runs scored and six extra base hits, including a trio of home runs. She also added 10 RBI and a stolen base to help extend the Bucs win streak to seven.

Gandara opened the weekend with a double and a pair of RBI in CSU's 9-0 win over St. Bonaventure. She followed with a triple and home run to go with three runs scored and four RBI in a win over George Mason. She added another home run in CSU's 7-1 win over George Mason, then another dinger with two runs scored and a pair of RBI in a win over Hartford.

CSU Big South Players of the Week
Week 1 – Jade Gandara, OF
Week 3 – Jade Gandara, OF

Big South Pitcher of the Week
Along with Gandara earning Player of the Week honors, sophomore right-hander Holly Clark earned conference Pitcher of the Week recognition this past weekend. Clark recorded her team-leading third shutout of the season in the opener last weekend against St. Bonaventure, and then added a win in the Bucs' final game against Hartford to record a 2-0 weekend record. She made four appearances overall, which included three starts and a shutout.

Clark struck out four in the complete blanking against St. Bonaventure, then went on to record a scoreless relief appearance against George Mason. She followed that up with her third walk-less appearance where she picked up her fourth win of the season in a win against the Hawks.

CSU Big South Pitchers of the Week
Week 3 – Holly Clark, RHP

Freshman Power
Key to Charleston Southern's success early in the season has been the power surge from the bats of freshmen Nina Del Rio, Sarah Brown, Taylor Gleason, and Madison Koger. The CSU quartet has combined for 11 home runs over the first 16 games with Del Rio and Brown connecting on four apiece. Lining up primarily in the cleanup and the fifth position, Brown and Del Rio have combined for eight home runs, four doubles, a triple, and 25 RBI in the heart of the CSU lineup. Gleason added home runs in back-to-back games at the Buccaneer Invitational, while Koger also homered in the Buccaneer Invitational. Along with newcomer Annie Bakenhus (1 home run), CSU has 12 of their 25 home runs accounted for by players not on the 2017 roster.

Back-to-Back (And Repeat)
Following Mallory Kasinger and Sarah Brown's back-to-back home runs on Wednesday afternoon against St. Bonaventure, the Buccaneers have connected on back-to-back home runs in four separate games in the 2018 season. Madison Koger and Taylor Gleason were the first to accomplish the feat on February 16 against Valparaiso. Sarah Brown and Nina Del Rio were the second duo with back-to-back shots on February 24 against George Mason. Caitlyn Emberson and Jade Gandara followed later that day with back-to-back shots against Hartford.

CSU Goes Back-to-Back
February 16 vs. Valparaiso – Madison Koger (solo), Taylor Gleason (solo) – 7th inning
February 24 vs. George Mason – Sarah Brown (solo), Nina Del Rio (solo) – 4th inning
February 24 vs. Hartford – Caitlyn Emberson (solo), Jade Gandara (solo) – 5th inning
February 28 vs. St. Bonaventure – Mallory Kasinger (2-run), Sarah Brown (solo) – 3rd inning

Eight Different Players Gone Deep
Heading into the fourth weekend of the season, the Buccaneers' power bats have been active early in the year with eight different players leaving the ballpark in the 2018 season. Jade Gandara has held the hot bat for CSU early in the season with a team-high six home runs, while Mallory Kasinger (5), Nina Del Rio (4), and Sarah Brown (4) have all powered the Bucs this year.

Jade Gandara (6) – Feb. 8 vs. North Dakota, Feb. 18 vs. N.C. Central (twice), Feb. 23 vs. George Mason, Feb. 24 vs. George Mason, Feb. 24 vs. Hartford

Mallory Kasinger (5) – Feb. 10 vs. Towson, Feb. 16 vs. Valparaiso, Feb. 24 vs. Hartford, Feb. 25 vs. St. Bonaventure, Feb. 26 vs. St. Bonaventure

Sarah Brown (4) – Feb. 18 vs. N.C. Central, Feb. 23 vs. George Mason, Feb. 24 vs. George Mason, Feb. 28 vs. St. Bonaventure

Nina Del Rio (4) – Feb. 17 vs. Valparaiso, Feb. 24 vs. George Mason, Feb. 25 vs. Hartford, Feb. 25 vs. St. Bonaventure

Caitlyn Emberson (2) – Feb. 24 vs. Hartford, Feb. 28 vs. St. Bonaventure

Taylor Gleason (2) – Feb. 16 vs. Valparaiso, Feb. 16 vs. Eastern Kentucky

Annie Bakenhus (1) – Feb. 25 vs. Hartford

Madison Koger (1) – Feb. 16 vs. Valparaiso

Chasing CSU Records
Jade Gandara continues her ascent in the CSU Career Record books as the junior outfielder moves up the CSU rankings in multiple categories. The Hemet, Calif. native enters the weekend 19th all-time in career hits (130), third in home runs (29), 11th in doubles (28), 14th in runs (75), and sixth in RBI (103). She will attempt to continue to move up in the rankings in her third season with the Bucs.

Stealing in Bunches
Meghan Gagliano has certainly made a name for herself on the basepaths to start the 2018 season as the fleet-footed freshman leads the Big South Conference with 11 stolen bases over the first 16 games of the season. Gagliano has posted multiple stolen bases in two separate games this season and has steals in seven of her last eight heading into the weekend. The freshman leads a resurgent CSU running game that boasts 29 steals in 32 attempts and has four players with at least three steals on the year. Overall, 10 different CSU players have recorded stolen bases in the 2018 season with Annie Bakenhus (5-for-5), Kendall Anderson (4-for-4), and Sarah Brown (3-for-3) all boasting perfect marks on the year.

Big South Leaders
The Bucs' success over the past three weeks have translated into multiple top appearances in the Big South standings. As a team, CSU entered the week pacing the Big South in batting average (.337), runs (104), home runs (22), RBI (97), ERA (2.01), wins (12), and shutouts (5). Kasinger and Emberson led the Big South in doubles (6), while Emberson paced the conference in walks (10). Gagliano was the conference leader in steals (10).

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