Wingate by Wyndham Preview: Buccaneers host N.C. A&T, North Dakota, and Towson to open 2018 season slate

Wingate by Wyndham Preview: Buccaneers host N.C. A&T, North Dakota, and Towson to open 2018 season slate

CHARLESTON, S.C. - Charleston Southern softball has had February 9 circled on the calendar as the Buccaneers prepare to open the 2018 season this weekend with the Wingate by Wyndham Invitational. It's the fifth time over the last six seasons the Buccaneers have opened the season in the friendly confines of the CSU Softball Field with last season's doubleheader on the road at Savannah State the lone outlier of the group. 

The opening field for the weekend marks the first time the Bucs have taken on Towson and North Carolina A&T since the start of the 2016 season and the first time in program history CSU has hosted North Dakota. CSU will host three separate tournaments over the first three weekends of the season with the Wingate by Wyndham Invitational (February 9-11), the Buccaneer Invitational (February 16-18), and the Willie Jewell's Invitational (February 23-25) with 17 total home games prior to the Bucs hitting the road for the first time in 2018. 

CSU will put three of the Bucs' five opening games on the Big South Network. Live Stats for all CSU home games can be found on the CSU Softball schedule.

Charleston Southern Game Notes - Wingate by Wyndham Invitational

North Carolina A&T was selected third in the Southern Division in the 2018 MEAC preseason poll as announced earlier this spring. The Aggies received 97 total points and a first-place vote to sit behind Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M in the poll. Zadaisha Waddell is the lone Aggie representative on the MEAC preseason All-Conference Team earning First Team honors as a utility player while earning Second Team recognition as a pitcher. 

A junior from Troy, N.C., Waddell boasted a 10-14 overall record in the circle with a 3.21 ERA in 39 appearances (29 starts). Waddell posted 13 complete games and three shutouts on the year, striking out 111 in 189.2 innings' pitched. She added a .343 batting average from the plate with nine doubles and 17 RBI in her 105 at-bats. Mohagony Headen also returns in the circle after posting 103 strikeouts and a 9-16 overall record in her sophomore season. 

It has been two seasons since the Bucs last faced off against the Aggies in the 2016 season after hosting N.C. A&T back-to-back years in tournament play. During the span, CSU is 4-0 against the Aggies, run-ruling A&T three times during the span. Only four players currently on the roster have lined up against N.C. A&T with Jade Gandara, Caitlyn Emberson, Destini Ewing, and Arizona Pilgrim all taking the field in the Bucs' two wins in 2016.

A member of the Big Sky Conference, North Dakota was tied for fifth overall in the conference's preseason poll announced late last week. The Fighting Hawks received 24 points to tie with Southern Utah in the fifth spot as the poll nearly mimicked 2017's final standings. UND earned a spot in their first-ever postseason tournament this past year following a school-record for wins (23) and conference victories (nine).

Reigning Big Sky Pitcher of the Year Kaylin VanDomelen returns to spotlight a team that returns a number of key players to the roster this season. VanDomelen led the conference in earned run average (1.95) and finished second in strikeouts (171) in 2017. She showcased her abilities on the field by also leading UND's batting efforts with a team-high .333 batting average with eight home runs, 16 doubles, and 26 RBI. Fellow senior Taylor Nadler returns after connecting on seven home runs and a team-high 28 RBI, while base-stealing threat Victoria Minor (nine steals) reprises her role in the lineup this season. 

North Dakota is the lone Big Sky team the Bucs will play in the 2018 season. It will be the first time CSU has lined up against a Big Sky opponent since the 2013 season when the Bucs took on Idaho State at the Long Beach State Mayfair Invitational on March 10. North Dakota will take on two teams from South Carolina in 2018, CSU and S.C. State (Feb. 11).

Towson is one of two Colonial Athletic Association teams that Charleston Southern will face in the 2018 season as the Buccaneers close out the first weekend of play with a contest against the Tigers. Towson was picked tied for sixth overall in the CAA preseason poll as announced in the middle of last week. The Tigers received 18 points to sit tied with Delaware in the spot.

The Tigers are coming off their 20th consecutive 20-win season this past year, averaging 31 victories over the previous four seasons. Senior Kendyl Scott returns to the lineup after earning First Team All-CAA honors and NFCA Division I Mid-Atlantic Region Third Team honors. She led the Tigers with a .341 batting average with 60 hits, seven home runs, four triples, and a team-high 12 stolen bases. Megan Dejter and Julia Smith-Harrington combined for 133 strikeouts and five shutouts in the circle with the duo combining for 58 appearances and 49 starts in 2017.

It has been two seasons since the Bucs took on the Tigers at the CSU Softball Field on the opening day of the 2016 season. CSU downed Towson in the opener, 5-4, as the Bucs raced out to a four-run first inning on their way to completing the win. Gandara, Emberson, and Ewing all started the contest against the Tigers with Emberson providing one of three CSU RBI in the contest.

Head Coach Shane Winkler enters his 10th season at the helm of the CSU Softball program and will reach another coaching milestone this year as he approaches 250 career wins. Winkler would become just the fourth coach in Big South history to achieve the coaching mark, joining Liberty's Paul Wetmore (1994-13, 547 wins), Coastal Carolina's Jess Dannelly (1988-09, 669 wins), and Winthrop's Mark Cooke (1990-present, 750 wins). He is currently just the sixth coach in Big South history with 200 career wins and the only CSU softball coach to achieve triple-digit wins over the 30-year existence of the program. Coach Winkler's teams have set or tied numerous CSU records since 2009. Multiple individual single-season records and career standards have been set during Winkler's time at Charleston Southern. The Bucs have broken 11 single-season team records in the past six seasons as well.

>Junior outfielder Jade Gandara returns as CSU's reigning leader in batting average (.354), hits (67), doubles (17), home runs (16).

>Junior catcher Caitlyn Emberson was the Bucs' on-base percentage leader in 2017 with a team-high .444 OBP on the season. She led the NCAA with 28 hit-by-pitches on the year while finishing second on the team with 11 home runs and 11 doubles.

>Sophomore pitcher Holly Clark led the Bucs in multiple categories in the circle in 2017 including appearances (40), complete games (9), and innings pitched (128.1).

>Junior pitcher Arizona Pilgrim was CSU's team leader with nine wins in the circle on the season with seven complete games in 18 starts.

Charleston Southern's early-season schedule is a boon for the Buccaneers as CSU will play its first 17 games of 2018 in friendly territory. The Bucs host the Wingate by Wyndham Invitational (Feb. 9-11), the Buccaneer Invitational (Feb. 16-18), and the Willie Jewell's Invitational (Feb. 23-25) to open tournament play. The Bucs add a midweek matchup against St. Bonaventure on February 28 before making their first trip on the road on March 2-4 for the Tennessee Invitational hosted by the University of Tennessee. CSU has won 49 home games over the last three seasons, including 22 in the 2015 season. 

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 of another trip to the NCAA Super Regional before falling to Texas A&M. 

Charleston Southern welcomes 10 newcomers to the 2018 roster this season, including a pair of transfers in Emily Visnic and Annie Bakenhus. Altogether, it marks one of the largest classes of newcomers for the Bucs in recent history. CSU's largest signing class to date remains the 2014 class that led the Bucs to their first NCAA Tournament following their Big South Championship run.

Among the newcoming class:

Pitchers - Alyssa Heinrich, Nina Del Rio, Emily Visnic

Catchers - Hannah Cannon

Infielders - Sarah Brown, Madison Koger, Taylor Gleason

Outfielders - Meghan Gagliano, Kendall Anderson, Annie Bakenhus 

Charleston Southern will host four Big South Conference opponents at the CSU Softball Field in the 2018 season. The Bucs will welcome reigning conference champion Longwood (March 24-25), Presbyterian (March 30-31), Campbell (April 14-15), and Radford (May 4-5). 

CSU took two of the three games against Longwood in the 2016 season as the Bucs swept the doubleheader on the final day of the series. The remaining three opponents took the series against CSU, 2-1. Radford swept the first day to win the series over the Bucs. Campbell took the first and third games to take the series against the Bucs. Presbyterian took both games of the doubleheader to win the series over CSU. 

The Buccaneers open the conference slate on March 16-17 on the road in Rock Hill, S.C. against Winthrop. CSU will follow up with road trips to Gardner-Webb (April 7-8) and Liberty (April 20-21). 

The Bucs took the road series against the Runnin' Bulldogs and the Eagles in their last trips in the 2016 season. The Flames took two of three against the Bucs for CSU's lone road conference series loss against remaining opponents. 

The 2018 Big South Conference softball tournament will be held at the Radford Softball Stadium on the campus of Radford University. The top six teams in the regular standings will make the double-elimination tournament. Longwood is the reigning champion with the Lancers winning the title each of the last three seasons.

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