Lancers ‘right in the mix’ for more titles

Published 11:24 pm Thursday, February 7, 2019

The 2019 softball season begins Friday for Longwood University’s softball team, and the Lancers appear primed for another outstanding run.

“On the plus side, the fact that we have six seniors on the team, I think, is the factor that makes you really say, ‘Well, good things could happen to us this year,’” Longwood Head Coach Kathy Riley said. “In any team situation, a lot of it depends on how hard we work and the type of leadership that we get. But I feel like that we have had an invested group of seniors, so I think we’ll be right in the mix for the conference title and the conference tournament as well.”

Coaches around the Big South Conference agreed with their votes, as the league’s preseason selections featured Longwood as the favorite to win its fifth Big South Championship in seven years.

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Two of the Lancers’ six seniors were honored with Big South preseason awards, as catcher Kaylynn “Bug” Batten was named the league’s preseason Player of the Year, and Sydney Gay was named the preseason Co-Pitcher of the Year.

The girls form two-thirds of the trio that Riley is counting on for leadership this season.

“I think Bug, Sydney Gay and Karleigh Donovan are probably the three that will jump out from the beginning and be willing to say and do things to get the team to move forward,” the coach said. “I have some other seniors that are going to play a lot, too, but some kids are more quiet than others. But I think those three will actually be more verbal.”

As for who will be featured in the circle this year, Riley said, “I think Sydney Gay is the clear No. 1 just in the level of consistency that she has shown this year.”

The coach said the team’s No. 2 will be sophomore Sydney Backstrom, who gained plenty of experience last season, when the Lancers went 38-16 overall.

Riley said a new development in softball that mirrors a practice in baseball is the process of changing pitchers more often during a game so batters are not seeing the same sequence of pitches.

“I used to like for a pitcher to throw seven innings,” Riley said. “But like I said, right now, the metrics, people are pitching somebody four innings (and) pitching somebody else three. … If we find that to be effective and looking at the numbers in terms of less runs being scored, then that’s what we’ll do.”

The coach also highlighted two new Lancers as players to watch.

“We had one transfer that’s a senior from Virginia Tech — Chelsea Whitcomb, who is a superb athlete,” Riley said. “If she can get a rhythm and really get her confidence, she could be a game-changer.”

Also, “I do have one freshman that’s going to start for us right now,” Riley continued. “Her name is Alexis Wayland. She came in as a catcher. Right now, she’s going to divide time between third and left, so I think we could look for her maybe to make an impact on our team this year.”