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BYU softball: Cougars look to hit the ground running in 2014

By Spencer Shamo

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 21 2014 2:20 p.m. MST

With six starters returning from a team that won its fifth consecutive conference championship, the BYU women’s softball team looks to start quickly in 2014.

“This year’s team is very young, not only in age but also in experience,” BYU head coach Gordon Eakin said. “However, it is extremely talented. We currently have five seniors, two juniors, two sophomores and eight freshmen. Of the seven upperclassmen, we only have four that have significant game experience. One of the strengths of the upperclassmen is they all possess great leadership qualities. That leadership will be needed to help guide this young team.”

The Cougars return over 70 percent of their offense from last year’s team that finished the regular season winning 16 of their final 17 games to advance to their ninth straight NCAA regional. However, there may be times when the new faces will get a chance to show their skill set.

“At times we may have up to five freshmen and two sophomores in the starting lineup,” Eakin said. “This year we expect to continue to be highly competitive, especially as we gain some game experience. Our goals are no different than any other year, win a conference championship and make a competitive run in the NCAA tournament.”

BYU expects no less from this year’s team and looks to improve with an influx of new faces to mix with returners from last year’s team.

Pitchers

“The pitcher position will be anchored by senior Tori Almond and two strong freshmen — McKenna Bull and Ashley Thompson,” Eakin said. “Katie Manuma will play a relief role again this season when called on.”

Almond returns for her final season as a Cougar after she finished the 2013 season with a 12-8 record and a 2.88 ERA. In BYU history, she is fourth in career wins, strikeouts and shutouts. Bull and Thompson come to BYU after heralded high school careers. Bull was named first-team all state three times in her career and ended with a 53-17 record. Thompson made headlines her senior year breaking the Washington strikeout record, and she pitched seven straight no-hitters on her way to being named Washington’s Gatorade Player of the Year for softball.

Catchers

BYU does not return a catcher with starting experience and will rely on freshmen Mercedes O’Connor and Sydney Broderick to lead the way. O’Connor hit .400 as a senior at Edison High School and redshirted last year while nursing a back injury. Broderick comes to BYU after batting over .500 for her high school in her junior and senior seasons.

“The infield will be anchored by freshman catcher Sydney Broderick,” Eakin said. “Sydney has a cannon for an arm, which will make it difficult for opponents to steal on her. She is a very tough player and is getting better every day. Redshirt freshman Mercedes O'Connor and junior Megan Arnold will also see time at the catching position. Mercedes may also see time at third base or even in the outfield."

Infield

“Senior Katie Manuma will move from first base where she started the last three years and will play third base,” Eakin said. “Katie is a very athletic third baseman and will provide power and RBIs in the middle of the batting order.”

Manuma led the team in home runs and RBIs last season. She will be joined by sophomore Coco Tauali’i as a returning starter in the infield. Tauali’i was one of the main contributors to the late season success of last year's batting. She batted .308 in conference play with two homeruns and 17 RBIs.

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