CHARLESTON, S.C. - Charleston Southern opens the 2019 season this weekend with the Willie Jewell's Invitational held at the CSU Softball Field. The Buccaneers welcome Dayton, Maryland Eastern Shore, and South Dakota to CSU for the four-day event starting on Thursday evening under the lights against the Flyers.
Willie Jewell's Invitational Schedule
Thursday, February 7
Dayton vs. Charleston Southern - 5 p.m. (Live Stats)
Friday, February 8
UMES vs. Dayton - 9 a.m. (Live Stats)
South Dakota vs. Dayton- 11:30 a.m. (Live Stats)
UMES vs. Charleston Southern - 2 p.m. (Live Stats)
South Dakota vs. Charleston Southern - 4:30 p.m. (Live Stats)
Saturday, February 9
Dayton vs. South Dakota- 9 a.m. (Live Stats)
South Dakota vs. UMES - 11:30 a.m. (Live Stats)
Dayton vs. Charleston Southern - 2 p.m. (Live Stats)
UMES vs. Charleston Southern - 4:30 p.m. (Live Stats)
Sunday, February 10
South Dakota vs. Charleston Southern - 1 p.m. (Live Stats)
It is the first of three home softball tournaments for the Buccaneers to start the season. CSU is also at home next weekend with the Wingate by Wyndham Invitational on February 15-17 and the Holy City Showdown on February 22-24.
Scouting Charleston Southern
The Buccaneers were picked fifth overall in the annual Big South Conference preseason poll as voted on by the league's head coaches. Senior first baseman Jade Gandara was the runner-up in the preseason Player of the Year voting and returns after earning NFCA All-Region honors in 2018. The Hemet, Calif. native paced the Bucs in batting average (.395), slugging percentage (.741) and home runs (14) last season.
CSU's head coach Venus Taylor makes her debut in the dugout this weekend for the first time with the Bucs after joining the team in late fall. Taylor was 133-80-1 at her last stop at Judson University. She boasts a strong coaching background with stops at Bradley University (Head Coach 2003-05) and Georgia Tech (Assistant Coach, early 2000s).
Among the notable returners along with Gandara include the senior battery of Arizona Pilgrim and Caitlyn Emberson. The duo grew up playing together in Taft, Calif. and have been steady in the circle and at the plate over the last four seasons. Pilgrim led the Bucs in wins (8), innings pitched (113.1) and strikeouts (83) last season. Emberson has been among the conference's best power hitters over the last three seasons and boasts an uncanny knack of getting on base after leading the Big South in walks and hit-by-pitches over the last two seasons.
The development of now-sophomores Sarah Brown and Madison Koger has provided a strong side of the infield for the CSU lineup. Brown and Koger both started all 56 games last season at third base and shortstop respectively and have impressed over the fall season again.
Annie Bakenhus also returns to lead a young outfield unit after receiving All-Conference recognition in 2018. Bakenhus started all 56 games in centerfield last year and hit .353 from the plate while adding 13 stolen bases.
The Flyers were picked second overall in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll announced earlier in the season. Dayton received 80 votes in tying with Fordham for the spot in the poll.
The Flyers return five starters from last season including 2018 First Team All-Conference catcher Kyle Davidson. The senior hit .351 last year after starting all 56 games. She paced the team in hits (61) and doubles (19) while leading the team with a perfect 17-for-17 in stolen base attempts.
Fellow First Team selection and All-Rookie member Abby Ehrenborg also returns after a strong first collegiate campaign. She hit .338 from the plate with a team-high seven home runs and 34 RBI.
Head Coach Cara LaPlaca is in her 12th season as Dayton's head coach and is coming off her third 30-plus win season with the Flyers. Overall, Dayton was won at least 20 games in each of the last eight seasons. The Flyers are two years off back-to-back A-10 Championship appearances.
CSU is the lone Big South team the Flyers will face in 2018. The Flyers are one of three teams to play at least five games this weekend joining CSU (6) and South Dakota (5).
Scouting Maryland Eastern Shore
Maryland Eastern Shore was picked sixth in the Northern Division and 12th overall in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in the MEAC's preseason softball poll. The Hawks received 26 points overall to finish behind division leaders Morgan State (Northern) and Florida A&M (Southern).
The Hawks went 4-35 last season with a 4-13 record away from home last season. Maryland Eastern Shore's Sara Jo Whaley is the team's leading hitter returning the field after hitting .294 with 25 hits and 10 RBI. Breana Florez is also back after hitting .280 from the plate.
Nasya Goodman returns after a freshman season where she picked up all four of the Hawks' wins in the circle. She led the team with 25 appearances and 20 starts while adding 17 complete games. LeAnn Gingrich added 18 starts in the circle.
Coach Allen Davenport finished up his 14th season with the Hawks as an assistant coach prior to being named the interim head coach this season. Davenport has been responsible for the on-field coaching and recruiting and has coached 12 Hawks to All-Conference recognition.
Maryland Eastern Shore will take on another Big South opponent this season in Gardner-Webb. The Hawks will take on the Runnin' Bulldogs twice this season at the Gardner-Webb Tournament on March 1-3.
Scouting South Dakota
South Dakota was picked fourth overall in The Summit League preseason poll as announced by the conference office earlier in the season. The Coyotes return a team anchored by five seniors and four All-Summit performers returning to the lineup.
Junior Camille Fowler is one of the aforementioned All-Conference performers and is a two-year starter in the outfield. She hit .326 at the plate last season with a team-high 57 hits and 12 stolen bases. Catcher Jessica Rogers also returns after leading the team in batting average (.376), home runs (15) and RBI (45).
Dustie Durham is the leader in the circle for the Coyotes and returns for her senior season in the circle. Durham led the team with an 11-13 record in the circle with nine complete games and three shutouts. Sophomore pitcher Sarah Lisko posted 33 appearances and 104.2 innings pitched.
Head Coach Robert Wagner begins his third season at the helm with the Coyotes this weekend. USD battled through a tough season last year with 15 newcomers on the roster with 12 freshmen. The Coyotes will look to continue to improve under the 20-year veteran.
The Bucs are the lone Big South team the Coyotes will face this season. The Bucs and South Dakota will close out the tournament on Sunday afternoon in the lone game on the final day of the tournament.