Softball Hillcats Ready for Spring

The Rogers State University softball team recently completed the fall portion of its competitive schedule which featured three Division I-A opponents.

The Hillcats opened the fall season at home with a four-team festival at the new RSU softball complex. RSU defeated Oklahoma Wesleyan 4-0, beat Carl Albert 6-3, and played Crowder College to a tie, 0-0. The Sept. 9, event marked the first time the Hillcats were able to showcase their new home to the public.

“It was great to see the support from our fans,” head coach Dawn Reed said. “It was our first time playing at home and our stands were full all day.”

The competition level was taken up a notch the following weekend as the Hillcats traveled to Emporia (Kan.) State for a festival. RSU drilled NAIA opponent McPherson College 8-0, but dropped games to Washburn and Emporia State, two highly-regarded NCAA Division II programs.

The Hillcats tested themselves even further by participating in the University of Tulsa Fall Festival. Playing against Division I-A competition for the first time, the Hillcats stood tall. RSU scored a run in the top of the seventh inning and held on to complete a 1-0, shutout of the Golden Hurricane. The Hillcats also edged Seminole State 1-0, and were crowned champions of the 2006 TU Fall Festival.

“Beating TU established some confidence in our team that we were lacking because we’re so young,” Reed said. “It showed our players that they are capable of beating anybody they step on the field with.”

RSU traveled to the University of Arkansas the following weekend for another four-team festival. After defeating Oklahoma Baptist 2-1, and Carl Albert 8-3, the Hillcats lost a tightly contested battle to Arkansas, 2-0. Reed said her team played solid against the Lady Razorbacks but didn’t make the adjustments against a higher level of pitching until late in the game.

The Hillcats completed their fall workouts by dropping a pair of six-inning contests to the Oklahoma State Cowgirls in Stillwater. RSU finished the fall with a 7-5-1 record, going 2-0 against NAIA competition.

“We definitely had our highlights,” Reed said when assessing the fall. “We played at a high level at times but my expectation is that we play at that high level at all times.”

Perhaps the lack of consistency by the Hillcats can be attributed to the fact that they are so young and many of the players are in their first year at RSU. The 2006-07 roster features six returning players and nine newcomers. Nine Hillcats are listed as freshmen or sophomores on the roster, compared to just four seniors.

“We have a solid core of returning players and we’ve added a lot of talent with our newcomers,” Reed said.

Several new faces have made an immediate impact on the program. Freshman Taylor Whisenhunt (Collinsville, OK) hit .416 for the Hillcats during the fall and belted a home run against Oklahoma State. Reed said she believes Whisenhunt will be a big contributor in the lineup this spring.

She added that freshman shortstop Sydni Jones (Enid, OK) has the potential to be an All-American.

“She’s a phenomenal all-around athlete and she’s on of the hardest working kids I’ve ever coached.”

However, two freshmen pitchers could have the opportunity to make an even bigger impact for the Hillcats in 2007. Kelli Dunagan (Collinsville, OK) and Stephanie Eggers (Pawhuska, OK) will share duties in the circle for RSU.

“Kelli and Stephanie really compliment each other’s styles,” Reed said. “Kelli is a power pitcher and Stephanie is more of a finesse pitcher which is going to be very effective for us. Our pitching staff will be the strongest facet of our ball club and one of the most dominant pitching staffs in our region.”

After a successful fall campaign, Reed has her team setting its goals high in 2007.

“I think this teams’ expectations are to compete in the postseason,” Reed said. “We started talking about postseason on day one. We’re young, but I believe we have the talent. We matched up very well against all the teams we played this fall.”