JACKSONVILLE — Two-time Ohio Valley Conference champion Jacksonville State opens another softball season Friday.
As they Gamecocks typically do at the start of the year, they’ll play on the road. In the River City Leadoff in Jacksonville, Fla., JSU will face Army and Jacksonville on Friday, Connecticut and Army on Saturday and Jacksonville on Sunday before heading home.
The Gamecocks lost four starters and its top two starting pitchers from a year ago, but the OVC coaches and sports information directors still voted them the league favorite in the preseason poll.
Five fast facts about the season:
1. New scoreboard
The folks who attended Jacksonville State’s fan day Sunday got to see the new scoreboard, which includes video capability. The players say they’ve recorded a lot of different things that fans will get to see at home games.
And as for home games, if you’re a fan, don’t pass up chances to see the team, because there aren’t going to be as many as in the past. JSU has nine home dates that include 14 games, with five doubleheaders in the mix. Last year, the Gamecocks scheduled 20 home games on 13 dates. That didn’t include four games in the Southeast Missouri-organized Choccolocco Classic in Oxford, which won’t be repeated this year.
The good news is that the Choccolocco Park will host the OVC tournament again this season May 9-12, which JSU has won the last two years.
2. Hull of a player
Jacksonville State’s new catcher is junior Lex Hull, who spent her first two college seasons as a backup at South Carolina.
Hull’s upbeat personality seems to suit Jacksonville State exceptionally well, and she has fit in wonderfully. She finally will get a chance to play regularly, and — no pressure — but the first-team All-OVC catcher the past four years has come from JSU.
3. The big stage
The Gamecocks lost All-OVC pitching aces Taylor West and Whitney Gillespie, but juniors Faith Sims and Kirsten Titus and sophomore Alexus Jimmerson have shown glimpses of potential in the past. All three will get a shot.
Also, JSU has added freshman Nicole Rodriguez, who helped pitched her Florida high school team to a state championship. She also played Senior League Softball (an offshoot of Little League Baseball and Softball), and her team won the 2016 World Series. Pitching in the championship game that was nationally televised by ESPN, she struck out 15 in a 3-0 victory.
4. Stars return
JSU lost 10 players from last year’s roster, including seven seniors, but the Gamecocks have talent returning, too. Senior center fielder Emily Woodruff, senior right fielder Leila Chambers and junior second baseman Anna Chisolm made All-OVC last year.
Keep an eye on senior third baseman Caitlyn Sapp, who has played sparingly in the past. She won the Home Run Derby at Sunday’s fan day with a nice, easy swing.
5. All that matters
No matter the names of the players on the roster, the coaching staff is the same, and that’s exceptionally important at Jacksonville State.
Head coach Jana McGinnis is in her 24th year in charge of the program, and she’s joined by assistant coaches Mark Wisener (21 years) and Julie Boland (18 years, including two as a student assistant and graduate assistant).