CHARLESTON, S.C. - Charleston Southern is back in action this weekend as the Buccaneers host Winthrop to close out the 2019 regular season. The Bucs and Eagles will battle in a three-game series at the CSU Softball starting with Thursday's doubleheader at 3 p.m., while Senior Day festivities will take place on Friday afternoon prior to the 3 p.m. first pitch.
All three games over the week will be carried live on ESPN+ as the teams battle for seeding in the upcoming 2019 Big South Conference Championships. The conference's penultimate softball event will be held on May 8-11 at Amanda Littlejohn Stadium on the campus of Campbell University.
The Bucs (11-10 Big South) and Eagles (12-9 Big South) are two of four teams that could end up in the range of the No. 3 to the No. 6 seed. Radford (12-9) and Campbell (11-9) are the other two teams and the duo are expected to play each other on May 3-4 in Buies Creek, N.C.
CSU is looking to get back on track after snapping a five-game losing streak on April 20 against Gardner-Webb. The Bucs utilized the long ball with Caitlyn Emberson's three-run home run capping an eight-run sixth inning in CSU's 10-3 win over the Runnin' Bulldogs.
The Bucs (17-33 overall) have shined in Big South play this season with series wins over Radford (2-1), Presbyterian (3-0) and Hampton (2-1), but struggled over the last two weekends in losing series to Longwood (1-2) and Gardner-Webb (1-2). CSU has won at least one Big South game in each conference series this season, including taking their first victory in Farmville, Va. in program history back on April 13, a 3-2 win over the Lancers.
CSU's season has already provided a series of high notes in their first year under the tutelage of Head Coach Venus Taylor. Taylor recorded her 200th career win earlier this season courtesy of the Bucs' win over Cleveland State on March 9. The Bucs recorded their longest conference winning streak in program history at six games, while senior utility player Jade Gandara also became the program's all-time career RBI record holder.
The Bucs have already clinched a berth in next week's postseason tournament after missing the Big South Championships for the first time in program history in 2018. CSU's absence marked the end of a 19-year stretch when the Bucs reached the conference's postseason event. With the switch to only the top six teams in the regular season standings making the postseason in 2017, the Bucs fell short of reaching the postseason held in Radford, Va. last season.
This year, the Bucs are vying for their highest ranking since 2012 when CSU was third in the Big South standings and advanced to the Championship game against Coastal Carolina. CSU will be relying heavily on their core senior group this weekend against a strong Winthrop team for Senior Day as Annie Bakenhus, Destini Ewing, Jade Gandara, Caitlyn Emberson, and Arizona Pilgrim will look to lead the Bucs past the Eagles.
Bakenhus has been the team's sparkplug atop the batting order this season and paces the Bucs with a .340 batting average to go with 55 hits, nine doubles, and 28 runs scored. The Yucaipa, Calif. native sits among the Big South leaders in hits per game, as well as at-bats and plate appearances.
Gandara has steadily worked her way through her senior season with the Hemet, Calif. native again sitting among the team leaders in batting average (.285) while leading the team with 30 RBI. She's added a pair of triples and two home runs and sits tied with Emberson for the team lead with 13 extra-base hits.
Emberson is back atop the Big South Conference in hit-by-pitches and the senior catcher continues to swing a powerful bat in the heart of the CSU lineup. The Taft, Calif. native leads the Bucs with seven home runs and has added 28 RBI to her season totals. She also leads the team with a .425 on-base percentage and .477 slugging percentage.
Pilgrim paces the Big South with conference-high 40 appearances in the circle to go with 26 starts. She leads the Bucs with 166.1 innings pitched and has added 111 strikeouts. Her 3.66 ERA leads the Bucs' pitching efforts on the season.
CSU infielders Brooklynn Brewington and Sarah Brown have also been among the Bucs' best at the plate this season. Brewington and Brown are tied for second on the team with 40 hits apiece, while the duo has combined for 21 of CSU's 34 stolen bases on the year.
Holly Clark is also someone to keep an eye on in the circle for CSU this weekend. Clark has made 35 appearances for the Bucs this season, including each of the last nine games. Her nine-strikeout complete game loss against Gardner-Webb in the opener marked a career-high for the junior, while her complete-game win over the Runnin' Bulldogs in the finale paced CSU back above .500 in conference play this season.
Winthrop (23-22 overall) is one of four teams in the Big South this season with an overall winning record joining Longwood (34-16), USC Upstate (40-13), and Gardner-Webb (30-24). The Eagles will travel to UNC Greensboro on May 1, prior to their three-game series against the Bucs.
The Eagles clawed their way back into the postseason thanks to winning the conference series over USC Upstate on April 20-22. The Eagles took the final two games of the series at home at Terry Field to snap a three-game losing streak.
Overall, Winthrop won season series over Presbyterian, Hampton, Gardner-Webb, and USC Upstate in conference play.
Morgan Lowers leads the Eagles offense on the season with a .350 batting average to go with a team-high 55 hits and 34 runs scored. Ashley Westbrooks is the power hitter of the group with five home runs and 32 RBI. Tori Walker is the speedster on the base paths with her nine stolen bases leading four players with at least five steals this season.
Madyson Watson (12-4, 2.75 ERA) leads the Eagles in the circle with a team-high 124.2 innings pitched to go with 104 strikeouts. Kiley Majette is also among the team leaders with 28 appearances and seven wins while also recording 104 strikeouts.
The 2019 Big South Conference Championships starts on May 8 with the first game of the day set for a noon start time between the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds. The No. 3 and No. 6 seeds play at 2:30 p.m., while the first elimination game of the tournament is set for that evening at 5 p.m.