The Blue Raider softball team started their 2015 campaign this past weekend, going 3-2 in the Bulldog Kickoff Classic at Mississippi State.
Looking at last season, Middle Tennessee struggled mightily to pick up wins. The Blue Raiders went 10-45 overall, and 2-21 in Conference-USA play to rank last in the conference.
The main contributor for last year’s team was junior catcher Laura Dukes. Dukes was named to the All-Conference-USA first team in 2014.
Dukes started all 55 games for the Blue Raiders last season and led the team in nearly all offensive categories. The junior set the Middle Tennessee single-season records for walks (34) and on-base percentage (.505).
Senior infielder Kayla Toney was the other powerful bat for Middle Tennessee last season. Toney was second on the team, behind Dukes, in batting average and RBI, hitting .291 and driving in 30 runs. Toney also led the team in home runs with seven.
Other than Dukes and Toney, offense was, for the most part, nonexistent for the Blue Raiders in 2014.
As a team, MTSU hit a collective .244 and drove in 153 runs (3.4 runs per game). However, their opponents hit .326 and drove in 290 runs (6.4 runs per game), an indication of how last year’s Blue Raider season ended.
Pitching was a big deficiency for Middle Tennessee last year. No Blue Raider starter finished with more than four wins, ending with a team earned run average of 4.95.
Senior pitcher Jordyn Fisherback finished with the best ERA out of the Blue Raider pitchers, amassing a 4.55 ERA and a 3-13 record to finish the 2014 season.
Junior Caitlin McClure also had a 3-13 record and senior Shelby Stinnett went 4-19.
Defense was a weak spot as well for MTSU when compared to opponents. In 2014, the Blue Raiders had a .945 fielding percentage, while their opponents had a .965 fielding percentage.
Middle Tennessee also had more defensive miscues than opposing teams, committing 95 errors as opposed to 64 for its opponents.
Last season was just one of several losing seasons for the Middle Tennessee softball program. The Blue Raiders have not had a winning season since 2004, when they went 35-23.
The Blue Raiders will hope to have better fortunes this season under third-year coach, Jeff Breeden.
Breeden was hired in 2013 to turn the program around after he had remarkable success as Riverdale High School’s head softball coach. Breeden has had a tough go of it so far, going 20-94 as head coach at Middle Tennessee.
Those good fortunes may prove to be hard to come by though, as the Blue Raiders’ two main run providers from last season are no longer with the team.
Dukes transferred to Lipscomb for her senior year. Toney graduated after last season.
Returning for Middle Tennessee is senior infielder Samantha Nieves, who started all 55 games last year. Nieves was fourth on the team last season in RBI’s, tallying 16 for the Blue Raiders in 2014. She also racked up 43 hits on a .236 batting average.
The Blue Raiders are off to a good start so far this season, going 3-2 in its opening weekend of play at the Bulldog Kickoff Classic at Mississippi State.
Freshman outfielder Cor’Nisha Birdsong appears to be an impact player for the Blue Raiders in 2015. In her first five games, she has a .500 batting average while tallying four RBI’s and three stolen bases.
Junior Carlie Jenkins is also off to a great start for Middle Tennessee. Jenkins has batted in an impressive nine runs in five games, and she is hitting at a whopping .625 clip.
Junior Cheyenne Willis has been a key run producer in the first five games, driving in five runs while batting .357 on the young season. Her speed has been showcased as well, stealing three bases.
The Blue Raiders will look to keep their current success going this weekend in the Dot Richardson Classic in Clermont, Florida. Middle Tennessee’s first game will be Friday against Umass Lowell at 1:30 p.m.
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To contact sports editor Connor Grott, email firstname.lastname@example.org or reach him on Twitter at @Connor_Grott.