COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - After posting a program-best 34 wins, their highest ranking in the Top 25 in program history, and their fifth straight NCAA tournament appearance a year ago, the Gamecocks are now setting their sights on reaching new heights.
Just last year, South Carolina's season ended in regionals with a loss to Arizona. While it was disappointing, the Gamecocks believe they can build on last year's success to post an even better record this year.
"This is going to be an exciting season for us," Gamecocks head coach Beverly Smith said. "I think we return a lot of our offense. Offensively, we've added a new hitting coach who's come in and done a great job. He established an offensive philosophy that our team has really bought into."
This year, the Gamecocks' roster boasts six seniors including catchers Jordyn Augustus and Alyssa VanDerveer. However, Carolina will need to rely on their freshman if they hope to get into the Super Regionals.
"We have a class of seven freshmen and I think that's something exciting about this 2018 team," Smith noted. "We have a great group of seniors… but our freshman group will contribute early. Jana Johns is a freshman who stood out the most in the fall. She's likely to start at third base, be an everyday player for us, and put up great numbers offensively as well. Alyssa Kumiyama is another one who I think will be a threat at the plate. I go back to talking about our offense, but Alyssa Kumiyama will be a threat when she steps into the box."
Last year, the Gamecocks surrendered an average of just over three runs a game. While that's not a bad mark for Smith's squad, she believes her team will be better defensively.
"This will be the best defensive team that we have fielded since I've been at South Carolina," Smith said. "It's going to be an exciting team to watch on defense. The main add there is Kenzi Maguire coming back from redshirt. She injured herself the second weekend of the season last year. She returns. She'll be our starting shortstop. In a league like ours where speed is so big, you guy will be excited to watch her get outs. She gets the ball out faster than anybody I've seen."
Smith says the only question surrounding this team is their pitching. The Gamecocks currently have two freshmen and a sophomore on their pitching staff. Without that experience, the Gamecocks will have to find ways to keep runs off the board to help them.
"For us, we're all about balance," Augustus said. "On defense, our job is to get outs for our pitcher and work. Whether they get hit or whether they put them all away, our job is to really stay back and protect. From an offensive standpoint, Coach Lisle has always preached on-base percentage and being able to try and put things together and put up numbers. The more runs that we can ultimately produce offensively is going to mean our pitchers are going to be able to be a little bit more comfortable on the mound."
South Carolina opens the season in Miami at the FIU Tournament on February 9. Their first day of competition will see the Gamecocks take on East Carolina at 11:15 a.m. followed by the second portion of their doubleheader against Hofstra at 3:45 p.m.
The Gamecocks open their home schedule with the Gamecock Invitational at Beckham Field on February 16 against Michigan State.