With the season 11 days away, hokiesports.com begins its preview of the 2013 Virginia Tech softball team in a three-part series. Today, we look at the defensive possibilities the coaching staff has at its disposal.
“Defense wins championships.” - Paul “Bear” Bryant
In 2012, the Hokies fielded a championship-worthy defense, one that finished 12th in the NCAA in team fielding percentage with a school-record .975 percentage. This year’s defense should be even better as Tech returns its entire starting infield, its top two catchers, its top two pitchers and three players who saw extensive starting action in the outfield. Toss in the returners, a few newcomers and some players coming off redshirt seasons and you’ve added quality depth everywhere, giving the staff hope that this defense could be one of the best in the country.
“I think experience means a lot and we’re going to be experienced both defensively and offensively,” said associate head coach Al Brauns. “I think we’re still going to be young, but we’re going to be more experienced, so I have high hopes for this defense.”
The infield: All four starters from last year return, led by senior Courtney Liddle at first base. The two-time all-region selection continues to improve at the position after moving from the catcher spot two years ago. Joining her are Kelsey Mericka at third base, Bkaye Smith at shortstop and Kylie McGoldrick at second base.
With Smith and McGoldrick returning up the middle, Brauns said their knowledge of each other’s game is invaluable. “I don’t think enough can be said about them. The two of them work so well together. They know how each other are. They know how to flip the ball and they know where each other wants it. They both have incredible arms to finish the double play. Experience is everything and we certainly have that. And our pitchers are comfortable with them as well. They know if a ball is hit on the ground up the middle, there’s a good chance one of them is going to get to it.”
Coach Brauns on First Base: “We have Court back and she’s one of the top players in the region, but we’re also excited about Katey Smith. Katey has improved so much defensively and offensively that it’s going to be hard not to get her playing time, be it pinch hitting or spot action in the field. But right now, she just needs to get some at bats.”
Coach Brauns on Second Base: “Kylie is pretty entrenched there, but we have some help if something pops up like an injury in Kiara Ota or Morgan McCoy. But with Kylie’s experience and with her range at second base, we’re pretty solid there.”
Coach Brauns on Shortstop: “Hands down, Bkaye is one of the best defensive players in the ACC. She needs to find ways to get on base so we can leave her bat in the lineup, but defensively, there’s none better. We also welcome Amanda Ake, who can play that position, or can slide over to third base and play there. It’s going to come down to who has the hot bat. Ake’s a hitter, so I expect her to be in there somewhere. Jessica McNamara is a great back-up at short, but she’s done a heck of a job at third base as well. I don’t foresee any problem with putting her in at short or third.”
Coach Brauns on Third Base: “We have Kelsey back, but she’s also going to get some time behind the plate as well. It will come down to the hot hitter. Ake and J-Mac are also working here, and Beth Isaacs can play some defense as well. She has a great arm and can handle the position.”
The outfield: Three players who started numerous games will be back for the Hokies in Dani Anderson, Lauren Gaskill and Kat Banks. Tech’s only significant losses come at this position in Marra Hvozdovic and Kristen Froehlich, but the depth is there to make a seamless transition to this year. Brauns says the speed and experience this outfield brings to the table is unmatched in his lengthy tenure at Tech.
“They all work together well with each other,” Brauns said. “I think when you look a the possible starting lineup of Kat, Gaskill and Dani, Kat and Gaskill have incredible speed. But you can’t overlook the way that Dani gets incredible jumps on the ball. She’s not as fast as those two, but gets every bit of a jump that they do and because she reads the ball off the bat so well, she makes up for it. Anything in the air in that outfield has a chance to be caught.”
Coach Brauns on Left Field: “Right now, we see Dani out there. She’s adapted to the outfield better than I ever thought she would. She’s a heck of a shortstop, too. We’d like to keep Bkaye at short and Dani in left, but Dani will be in the lineup one way or another. Defensively, she can really handle the position. Nina Compton can play left or right field, as can Bailey Liddle. Both are good defensively and will help us out.
Coach Brauns on Right Field: “Kat is leading the way in right field right now, but as I’ve said 100 times, it’s going to come down to who’s hitting. Whoever is hitting is going to be out there. Kat has great bat speed and can leave the yard at any at bat, but Bailey brings a beautiful left-handed swing to the lineup.
Coach Brauns on Center Field: “Lauren is one of the smoothest outfielders I’ve ever seen and she’ll be back in center manning the top of the lineup. Laura Wolff is backing her up and certainly won’t hurt you defensively at all. Laura’s swing has improved and she looked really good in the fall and is having a good preseason. We look at Lauren as one of our offensive leaders and I’m not sure there’s a better center fielder in the ACC right now.”
Part 2: The Battery (Pitchers and Catchers) - Wednesday, Jan. 30
Part 3: The Offense - Friday, Feb. 1
For updates on Virginia Tech softball, follow the Hokies on Twitter (@VT_Softball).