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Lady Commodores enter new season with more questions than answers

By Dustin Kent
First-year Gulf Coast head coach Scot Thomas isn’t terribly familiar with the Panhandle Conference or the broader state and national landscape of JUCO softball.

How could he be after spending most of his coaching career in Blacksburg, Va., coaching Virginia Tech to 17 winning seasons, eight NCAA appearances, two ACC titles, and one trip to the Women’s College World Series over 23 seasons with the Hokies.

His high-major Division I experience made him an appealing hire for Gulf Coast after former coach Beth Wade’s departure to College of Charleston as an assistant.

His lack of JUCO experience makes it difficult for Thomas to project just how his team will match up with the best of the best in the Panhandle Conference and Florida at large.

“I guess my thing is, I like what we have, but I don’t know if what we have is good enough because I haven’t seen the competition,” Thomas said. “I don’t know all the teams out there or have a good grip on what we’re gonna see.

“But I do like what I see. The foundation of our team is very good, we’re just a little lacking in depth right now.”

That’s not wholly unsual for any program in the first year of a coaching transition, though the Lady Commodores face a bit more of a challenge with the departure of rising sophomores Hannah Poole, the team’s ace as a freshman in 2019, and Dixie Guesnard, who was second on the team with eight home runs and 51 RBI.

Poole left in the summer, while Guesnard and freshman outfielder Savannah Pennington, who Thomas said was the fastest player on the team, both departed after the fall.

Gulf Coast also lost six of its top seven hitters by average and four of its top six run producers from a squad that won 37 games last year and advanced to the state tournament.

“From where we were in the fall, we’re a little bit different team,” Thomas said. “We had a couple of players decide not to come back for the spring, but the bulk of what we have is really good.”

The Lady Commodores do return their top power hitter in first baseman Taylor Robinson, who batted .354 with 12 home runs and 51 RBI in 2019, while sophomore catcher Belle Wolfenden returns after posting an .804 OPS with 12 stolen bases.

Gulf Coast added some pop with 6-foot-1 freshman shortstop Emily Greek and lefty freshman outfielder Summer Johnson, and some speed in 5-6 freshman Mabry Briggs, who will play centerfield and lead off.

Greek’s sister Anna, a slap-hitting outfielder, will vie for time with 5-9 freshman Allie Fried, while 5-6 freshman catcher Hanna Segers is slated to hit in the five-hole. Mid-year Valdosta State transfer McKynleigh Harrell gives GC what Thomas hopes will be another impact bat in the lineup.

In the circle, Brittany Crowson returns after a solid freshman season in which she went 10-4 with a 2.07 ERA and 66 strikeouts to 56 walks in 111 2/3 innings.

Thomas said that Crowson has grown as a pitcher and is ready to step into the No. 1 role on the staff this season.

“Brittany has gotten better and added a pitch or two to her repertoire,” he said. “She’s working really hard and hitting her spots. She’s one of those kids who leads by example. she’ll do a great job of leading us from the circle. I think we’ll see a little bit different Brittany than you saw last year.”

She’ll be joined on the staff by sophomore Taylor Cochran, who pitched 20 1/3 innings as a freshman and posted a 4.48 ERA, along with Holmes County freshman Taylor Lee, and Akron transfer Camryn Michallas, who will double as a third baseman. Emily Greek will pitch as well.

“It’s gonna be one of those things where, depth-wise, we’re not great there, but I think we have what we need,” Thomas said of the staff. “If we have to pitch by committee a little bit, we can do that. Sometimes you just have to go with what you’ve got and that’s where we are.”

There are still more questions than answers for Gulf Coast, with Allen saying it’s “almost impossible” to evaluate where hits team fits in with the best teams in Florida at the moment.

“We’ll go out and try to be the best we can be,” he said. “We’re focused on us and doing things fundamentally as well as we can do them and I think we’ll be OK. I’m excited about it. Our expectations are to go out and play as hard as we can and hope it’s enough.”

 

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