Coastal Carolina softball returns to the diamond Friday after almost 11 months off.
The 2020 season was cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the Chants did lose a proven leader in Kassidy Smith, who ranked fourth in career home runs (38) and had 100 RBIs, head coach Kelley Green believes she has a talented squad that can “compete with anyone.”
“We think we have every bit of talent we had last year and more,” Green said.
The Chanticleers added a powerful bat in Kayla Rosado from Monmouth. She averaged .338, belted 12 homers and recorded 100 RBIs in her four years with the Hawks.
“We’re really excited to see what her bat can bring to our lineup,” Green said.
A player who electrified the Chants lineup last season was outfielder Stavi Augur.
The now-senior has increased her batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage in each of her three seasons in the teal and bronze.
Before the pandemic canceled the 2020 season, Augur had a team-leading 21 RBIs in 20 games, good enough for third in the Sun Belt Conference.
As Augur and her teammates prepare for the new season, one of the biggest struggles with the pandemic has been attempting to stay healthy.
“With contact tracing, if I get [COVID], I’m out for 14 days,” Augur said. “That’s 14 days of no training, too. I don’t have the time for [COVID]. I’m trying to help my team win.”
While contract tracing certainly has an impact on all sports in terms of a team’s depth, it has a deeper impact on softball than a sport like football or basketball.
The Chants play 15 games over the course of the first 14 days of the season. Should any player have to quarantine, they could miss 10-30 % of the season.
Despite the possibility of a key player being forced to quarantine, Augur believes in her other teammates to rise to the occasion should their name be called.
“We’ve all been practicing super hard to be able to play for situations like that,” Augur said. “At some point, everyone is going to have to step up.”
The Chants have loaded their non-conference schedule to help them prepare not just for conference play, but to also boost their RPI in hopes of achieving an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Chanticleers’ 2021 schedule features matchups with No. 23 Tennessee, Connecticut, South Carolina and Kentucky.
Tennessee, South Carolina and Kentucky all made the 2019 NCAA Tournament, with both Tennessee and Kentucky making it to the Super Regionals.
Both the Lady Volunteers and the Lady Wildcats have advanced to the Super Regionals in each of the last three seasons.
The Chanticleers are embracing the challenge.
“It’s where we want to be,” Green said.
“If we want to get in position to get an at-large bid, we need to have a higher RPI going into the conference tournament. Of course, we want to win the tournament. But we want to have ourselves in a position to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to regionals regardless of what happens in the tournament.’”
The Chanticleers are hoping to recreate the magic of their 2019 season.
That’s when they came within one win of reaching the NCAA Tournament, falling to Louisiana-Lafayette 1-0.
Augur believes this team has the talent to go even further.
“Our team is super focused,” she said. “I think with the team we have now, we have the potential to win that final game against [Louisiana-Lafayette] and make it to the NCAA Tournament.”
Green agreed with her outfielder, but she added that the pitching staff will play a critical role in the team’s success in 2021.
“Pitching is the name of the game,” the coach said. “I hate to put it all on the pitchers, but we feel that we certainly have enough talent around them — the offense to score enough runs and the defense to play behind them. If our staff can put it together this year and have a good year, I think we are going to be every bit of a team to be reckoned with.”
Senior Kaitlin Beasley-Polko is set to be the primary starter for the Chants. Green said Beasley-Polko had a stellar fall and even added a new pitch to her arsenal.
“It made our hitters just look silly,” Green said.
Green also noted that junior Iylana De Jesus has greatly improved with her throwing motion.
“The kid throws 70 miles an hour,” Green said. “She’s got every bit of potential.”
The Chants pitching staff also has two young guns in sophomore Raelee Brabham and freshman Riley Zana.
Brabham led the Chants pitching staff last year with six wins in eight starts, recording 48 strikeouts in 13 appearances. Green said that Zana adds “a completely different look” to the pitching staff.
“She’s more of an off-speed kid, but pitching after all the other three [pitchers], it’ll be tough for hitters to adjust,” Green said.
Coastal Carolina will open the 2021 season on Friday against Tennessee as part of the Kickin’ Chicken Classic. First pitch is set for 2:30 p.m. Coastal will play Akron immediately after their game with the Lady Vols.
The Chants will then take on Akron and UConn the following day before closing out the tournament with matchups versus Akron and Ohio University on Sunday.