While the 2015 Sun Belt championship tournament has come and gone, the Panthers have not forgotten the outcome. With this memory comes the feelings associated, which serves as a driving force for the team to dominate each opponent in the 2016 season.
On Feb. 12, the Georgia State softball team will kick off the season by facing Oregon at the Arizona State Kajikawa Classic. Located in Tempe, Arizona, they will compete against five teams over three days. Along with Oregon, the Panthers will play Cal Poly, Indiana, Utah and Notre Dame.
“We are excited to open the season at a national tournament at Arizona State. It will be a great opportunity for our kids to play in an awesome atmosphere against some quality opponents,” Head Coach Roger Kincaid said in a Georgia State Communications press release.
Taylor Thorpe, junior pitcher, is looking forward to the first game of the season.
“I’m most excited to play against Oregon, because they’re ranked pretty high nationally and it’s our first game of the season,” Thorpe said.
The Panthers finished with an overall record of 38-22, while having a 14-10 record in the Sun Belt conference in 2015. Georgia State fell to No. 2 South Alabama in a chance to play in the championship game. The team finished with a fifth place ranking in the Sun Belt and a third place result in the Sun Belt tournament.
With a new season comes new goals. Taylor Anderson, senior infielder, shares her top two goals for the new season.
“My top two goals for this season are to win the conference championship, and to be able to look back on my last season knowing I gave it everything I had,” Anderson said.
In order to achieve the goal of winning the Sun Belt championship, Georgia State will face tough conference competition along the way. The Panthers will compete against four Sun Belt conference teams at home, including Texas State, UL Lafayette, UT Arlington and Georgia Southern.
In addition, the team will play four conference teams on the road, which include Troy, South Alabama, Appalachian State and UL Monroe. UL Lafayette will be a tough matchup for the Panthers as they lead them in several categories. These categories include batting average and runs scored and home runs, to name three.
Besides the difficult division games, Georgia State will remain optimistic and play to the best of its abilities.
Thorpe is also excited to play against UL Lafayette and South Alabama who ranked one and two in the 2015 Sun Belt conference, respectively. South Alabama defeated UL Lafayette 2-0 in the 2015 Sun Belt championship game.
“I believe our games against South Alabama will be pretty challenging, because in the past, we have been equally matched,” Thorpe said. “When we play them it all boils down to who is executing the fundamentals the best.”
Georgia State will travel to Mobile, Alabama to play Sun Belt champions, South Alabama, on April 2-3. The Panthers went 0-3 in their last season record with South Alabama. After the three game series, the team will travel back home to Atlanta and play Georgia Tech. Georgia State defeated Georgia Tech 7-6 last season, creating a 1-0 record between the two teams in 2015. The Panthers will host UL Lafayette at Heck Softball Complex on April 9-10. Georgia State completed the regular season with a 0-3 record against the Ragin’ Cajuns.
The Panthers have been spending the offseason practicing those fundamentals and tightening up on technique.
“During the offseason, we are constantly lifting, running and working on the fundamentals to build a solid foundation on which we can build for the rest of the season,” Thorpe said.
Anderson, in particular, broke down the specific aspects she expects to perform better in.
“I expect no errors and to hit above .300, but everyone has those games,” Anderson said. “I just want to do anything I can to help my team win. I expect my teammates to do the same thing, and to have my back on the field like I have theirs.”
Playing a total of 24 home games, Georgia State will have a chance to improve their home record, which stands at 16-8 from last season. The team will host their home opener on Feb.17 against Georgia Tech at Heck Softball Stadium.
Georgia State will play several in state teams such as The University of Georgia, Mercer, Kennesaw State and division rivals Georgia Southern.
The team will host the Panther Invitational at Heck Softball Complex from Feb. 19 – 21. Competing against Miami (OH), Maryland, Alabama and Mercer, the invitational holds excellent matchups for the Panthers. Following this invitational, the team will participate in the USF Series Tournament from Feb. 26 -28 in Tampa, Florida, and the Wilson/DeMarini Classic from March 4 -6 in Auburn, Alabama. During the Wilson/DeMarini Classic Georgia State will compete against Auburn University and shortly after face them again at home on March 23.
The Panthers will finish off the regular season in a three game series with division rivals, Georgia Southern. The team will play its first game on May 6. The series will take place at Heck Softball Stadium.
Key matchups in the Sun Belt
Georgia State vs. South Alabama (40-13, No. 2)
The Panthers finished with a 0-3 record against South Alabama last season. After falling to the Jaguars in the Sun Belt tournament the Panthers are looking forward to competing against the team in the upcoming season. Georgia State may have finished the season with a better batting average of .334 compared to South Alabama at .300, but the Jaguars perform better in the circle.
South Alabama lost key pitcher Kalen McGill who finished the season with a 1.92 ERA. McGill pitched in 127 innings, having 75 strikeouts and only 17 walks. McGill lead the Sun Belt conference with the lowest ERA, resulting in a big loss for South Alabama. Devin Brown, sophomore pitcher, is returning for the Jaguars. Brown ranks No. 3 in the Sun Belt for the lowest ERAs at 2.80.
Georgia State vs. UL Lafayette (42-12, No. 1)
Georgia State finished with a 0-3 regular season record against UL Lafayette and fell to the Ragin’ Cajuns in game 5 of the Sun Belt tournament. This sent the Panthers to the consolation bracket where they faced South Alabama. UL Lafayette fell to the Jaguars in the Sun Belt championship game. The Ragin’ Cajuns finished the season with a .346 batting average, slightly above the Panthers. UL Lafayette also came in at No. 1 having the best ERA at 2.38 in the Sun Belt, 2015. Returning for UL Lafayette is senior catcher Lexi Elkins. Elkins has the second highest batting average in the Sun Belt at .426. Elkins ranks No. 4 at hitting, with 66 hits, but is beat by Georgia State’s Ivie Drake who ranks No. 1 with 85 hits.