The No. 6 Screaming Eagles begin the weekend with Alabama-Huntsville Friday at 2 p.m. before taking on 2016 national champion University of North Alabama Friday at 4 p.m. Both teams are receiving votes in the NFCA Preseason Top 25 Coaches’ Poll.
Saturday’s slate has USI taking on Delta State University at 2 p.m. and Midwest Region foe Trevecca Nazarene University at 4 p.m., while the Eagles close the weekend out Sunday with games against Midwest Region opponent Ohio Dominican University and No. 11 Lee University.
Live stats for the first three games will be available at GoUSIEagles.com, while updates on the final three contests of the weekend will be provided on Twitter (@USIAthletics).
USI Softball Notes
Eagles open 2018 as GLVC favorite. USI is the preseason favorite to win the Great Lakes Valley Conference in 2018. The Eagles received 193 points and 11 first-place votes in the annual GLVC Preseason Coaches’ Poll to edge out second-place University of Missouri-St. Louis.
NFCA Preseason Top 25. The Eagles are ranked No. 6 in the NFCA Preseason Top 25 poll. USI is slated to play eight games against teams either ranked in the preseason poll or receiving votes outside the poll.
Back to the Chillout. USI is making its first trip to the UAH Charger Chillout since 2015, when the Eagles posted a perfect 6-0 record. The Eagles are 20-31 all-time at the Chillout, but are boasting a 9-1 mark in their last two trips.
Strong returns. USI returns 12 players, five position starters and its entire pitching staff from a team that was 46-14 overall, 19-7 in the GLVC, and won the NCAA II Midwest Region title a year ago. That list includes a pair of All-Americans in senior first baseman Marleah Fossett (Brownsburg, Indiana) and sophomore pitcher Jennifer Leonhardt (Louisville, Kentucky).
Fossett looks to continue strong play. In 2017, Fossett led USI with a .412 batting average, a .528 on-base percentage and a .998 fielding percentage. She was tied for third on the team with five home runs and was fourth with 32 RBIs.
Leonhardt had historic rookie campaign. Leonhardt was the GLVC Freshman of the Year as well as the Midwest Region Pitcher of the Year in 2017 after going 29-4 in the circle with a save, a 1.67 ERA and a 2.09 opponent batting average. Her GLVC-best 29 wins set a single-season program record and ranked sixth in the nation.
Position of strength. In addition to Leonhardt, the Eagles return junior hurlers Caitlyn Bradley (Forest, Indiana), Courtney Atkisson (Bringhurst, Indiana) and Haylee Smith (Florence, Kentucky). Bradley and Atkisson are coming off strong performances in 2017 that saw them combine for 17 wins and a 2.09 ERA. Smith, who sat out the 2017 season, went 11-8 with a team-best 2.91 ERA as a freshman in 2016.
Big shoes to fill. USI must find a way to fill the void left by the graduation of Haley Hodges, Lexi Reese and Grace Clark. The trio combined for 22 home runs, 34 doubles and 115 RBIs a year ago.
Senior leaders. In addition to Fossett, the Eagles return senior outfielder Olivia Clark-Kittleson (Carbondale, Illinois), senior third baseman Mena Fulton (Bloomington, Indiana) and senior designated player/infielder Alex Logan (Carleton, Michigan). Clark-Kittleson hit .376 with 11 RBIs and 28 runs scored as a junior, while Fulton hit .337 with 12 doubles, three home runs and 21 RBIs. Logan hit .295 with three doubles, a home run and 11 RBIs in just 61 at-bats a year ago.
Other offensive leaders. In addition to her pitching skills, Bradley posted a .284 batting average to go along with five doubles, five home runs and 27 RBIs in 2017. Junior second baseman Claire Johnson (Pittsboro, Indiana) hit .289 with seven doubles, four triples, two home runs and 33 RBIs, while Leonhardt had four doubles, a home run and 14 RBIs.
Hitting streaks. Fossett and Fulton both bring long hitting streaks into the 2018 campaign. Fossett finished 2017 by recording a hit in 14 straight games, while Fulton had a hit in six straight games to conclude the 2017 season.