A whole lot of records graduated.
Kristyn Carpenter, Gracie King and Allison Pingel hit in the 2-4 spots in the Three Rivers lineup for the past two years and put up huge numbers.
Pingel now holds Lady Raider career records for home runs, slugging percentage and RBIs. Carpenter set the runs scored record, and King holds the fielding percentage record.
They finished 1-2-3 in career RBIs and all three rank in the top 10, in some order, in career home runs, slugging percentage, doubles and RBIs.
While the Lady Raiders do return eight sophomores from last season’s 40-9 team, those eight collectively hit 11 total home runs, one more than King’s team-high of 10.
Where the Three Rivers offense is going to come from, or more specifically which freshmen are going to step up, is a bit of a question.
Zoe Bisby leads the returning sophomores with eight home runs from last season while hitting .336 and coach Jeff Null said she has added lots of strength this year and will hit in the middle of the lineup while moving from second base to first base/designated hitter.
“We’re expecting big things out of her,” Null said.
The pitching staff should keep the Lady Raiders in most games.
Three Rivers returns sophomore pitchers Adrienne Stucker, Saje Kurpiela and Abbey Gann and added freshman Kindi Puckett.
“She probably has as good of stuff or better than any of the other two. We’re excited to have three above-average pitchers,” Null said of Puckett.
Gann and Kurpiela both won 18 games last season while Stucker is expected to pitch in relief this year.
With those four in the circle, Three Rivers went 21-5 in the fall, but Null said the team struggled offensively against top teams, and they will play 15 games against ranked teams during the first five weeks of the season.
Jennifer Morey returns as Three Rivers’ leadoff hitter and will start at second base after playing center field last year. She stole 41 bases and hit .412 as a freshman, putting her on pace to finish in the top five in career stolen bases.
“We’re looking at her to set the table a lot for us,” Null said.
Sydney Walker and Lauren Joyner, both freshmen, will bat in the middle of the lineup. Another freshman in Alisa Hankins will DH and has “as much power as anybody I’ve had,” Null said.
Molly Spangler was a Division I commitment to Northern Colorado before tearing her ACL playing basketball, but the freshman is healthy and is expected to start at shortstop, giving Three Rivers an athletic pair up the middle with her and Morey.
Poplar Bluff alumna Calli Gerber will start at catcher with freshman Fayth Rakes as the backup and Malden’s Gracie Thomas as the third string. Null said Thomas has more upside offensively of the trio.
“If she gets to where she can bring a little more consistency, she’s going to be looking at some playing time, as well,” he said.
Lexi Campbell and Mary Yandell are a pair of Raiders who played sparingly last season as freshmen but will see bigger roles as sophomores.
Campbell, of Malden, led the team with a .418 batting average but only had 67 at-bats on the season. This year she’s expected to start in left field.
Yandell hit .315 in 73 at-bats, but still had 24 RBIs and will start at third base.
“Our program is getting there where some of these freshmen, They’re not ready to start right away. They take a year to get stronger and develop and now they’re sophomores and they’re ready to step in,” Null said.
Freshman Blair Quarles will start in center field and could steal some bases while Bridgette Swinford will start in right, has a strong arm and adds power to the lineup.
Null hopes local freshmen Emilie O’Dell of Greenville and Morgan Shockley of Van Buren can come in and courtesy run off the bench. Jayna Cutsinger of Jackson is a good hitter and Anna Besand should add some offense.
“If they stay healthy, I think we’ll have a shot to be pretty good offensively … I think all 21 will play some kind of role at some point this year,” said Null, who added that seven players had a 4.0 GPA in the fall semester.
Three Rivers opens the season at home against Arkansas State at 1 p.m. Sunday before effectively spending a month on the road, then a month at home, and then a month on the road again.
After Sunday’s opener, the Lady Raiders have just one more home date before hosting Jefferson on March 17, which will be their first of 18 straight home games before playing 16 of their final 18 regular-season games on the road.
“I kind of like being on the road going into the playoffs because the regional play and all that, you’re on the road,” Null said. “There may be a few more losses, and I’m totally fine with that if it prepares us for the regional tournament.”
Scott Borkgren - Daily American Republic