College Softball

Heberling excited for first season as Sand Sharks' head coach

mmccombs@islandpacket.comFebruary 1, 2014 

USC Beaufort begins its first season under Laura Heberling on Saturday afternoon in Hardeeville.

USC Beaufort's Laura Heberling doesn't like to talk about the situation that resulted in her move from assistant softball coach to head coach after the Sand Sharks' highly successful 2013 season.

But it's not that she shies away from it. It's simply that she's too busy being excited about this season to worry about anything that happened last year.

And her players feel the same.

"I remember our first practice, one of our players came up to me and said, 'Coach, I didn't sleep all night.' And I was like, 'Why not? Are you OK out here?' And she said, 'Coach, I couldn't wait to get out on the field.' And when you hear that from somebody, you're pretty excited."

After a season that saw the Sand Sharks go 43-6 and come within a victory of the NAIA World Series in Columbus, Ga., former head coach Ty Rietkovich was unexpectedly let go.

Soon after, two of the Sand Sharks stars, Katie Rietkovich and C.J. Browder left the team.

USCB went through a search process, but the obvious choice was Heberling.

"We've been really successful in the past and we have the same girls that have been so committed to this program," Heberling said. "They've bought in to what we've been doing, both in the past and in this continuation of it. We have a family atmosphere and they see that."

Heberling is using that family atmosphere to the Sand Sharks' advantage. Though USCB has a smaller roster this season, every player is ready. Heberling intends to use a fluid lineup, taking into account the strengths of the competition.

"We have 19 players, and 1 through 19 are all in the mix," Heberling said. "It breeds a lot of competition on the field. We have a lot of strengths, we are going to take our strengths on the field to other team's weaknesses. People are going to be in, people are going to be out."

Kristy Cook has been the Sand Sharks' ace for two seasons, and she's expected to carry a heavy load again.

But Heberling says she'll rely more on her pitching staff than the team did in its first two seasons.

"Kristy Cook, Ashlie Layman, Caitlin Campbell, Kendall Jumper -- they are four totally different pitchers, so keeping teams off balance is our goal. I'm looking forward to that," Heberling said.

"Kristy's done a great job, but then again, she's been in a conference two years, and people get to know you and what you do. We've got a staff, we've got to use them. They've got to be ready. They will be ready."

After USCB's success the past two seasons, the Sand Sharks find themselves with bull's-eyes on their backs as this season opens. They were picked to win the Sun Conference and ranked 12th in NAIA in the preseason poll.

Heberling understands the rankings mean the Sand Sharks have to work even harder.

"When we come out here and people tell us we're preseason ranked No. 1 in the conference or 12th in the nation, that's just a number I see," Heberling said. "I see that, but it's where you finish the season. There are expectations. You want to be up there. But you have to be willing to fight for it.

"Game 1 is the most important, and then that next game is Game 1 again. Our focus has to be one game at a time, so we can reach that goal, get to the conference championship, make things happen and keep moving on."

OPENING DAY

St. Andrews (0-0) at USC Beaufort (0-0)

1 p.m. & 3 p.m., Richard Gray Sports Complex, Hardeeville

Last season: USCB went 43-6 overall,15-2 Sun Conference, lost in NAIA Opening Round.

Top returners: OF Missy Hughes (Soph., .390, 12 RBIs, 10 SBs), INF Mariah Sanborn (Jr., .382, 12 HRs, 39 RBIs), OF Sammi Shaffren (Jr., .364, 13 RBIs, 15 SBs), INF Maddie Byrd (Jr., 6 HRs, 48 RBIs), P Kristy Cook (Jr., 1.86 ERA, 22-2), P Ashlie Layman (Soph., 2.19 ERA, 11-0), P Caitlin Campbell (Jr., 2.85 ERA, 9-3).

2014 SCHEDULE

February

1 -- St. Andrews (DH), 1 p.m.; 8 -- at Savannah State at SSU Lady Tiger Tournament, 1:15 p.m.; 8 -- at Brewton-Parker at SSU Lady Tiger Tournament, 5:15 p.m.; 9 -- at Morgan State at SSU Lady Tiger Tournament, 11 a.m.; 9 -- at Savannah State at SSU Lady Tiger Tournament, 1:15 p.m.; 14 -- at Mobile at Southern Challenge, 3:30 p.m.; 14 -- at Truett-McConnell at Southern Challenge, 5:45 p.m.; 15 -- Brewton-Parker College at Southern Challenge, 11 a.m.; 15 -- Thomas at Southern Challenge, 1:15 p.m.; 21 -- Montreat (DH), 5 p.m.; 23 -- Virginia Intermont (DH), 1 p.m.; 27 -- Brenau (DH), 2 p.m.

March

1 -- at Coastal Georgia (DH), 1 p.m.; 4 -- Columbia College (DH), 3 p.m.; 7 -- at Emmanuel (DH), 5 p.m.; 8 -- at Southern Wesleyan (DH), 1 p.m.; 13 -- Saint Francis (DH), Smash Hit Tournament, TBD; 15 -- Bryan (DH), Smash Hit Tournament, TBD; 21 -- Southeastern (DH), Smash Hit Tournament, 1 p.m.; 27 -- at Edward Waters (DH), 2 p.m.

April

5 -- at Webber International (DH), 1 p.m.; 6 -- at Embry-Riddle (DH), 1 p.m.; 9 -- at Columbia College (DH), 3 p.m.; 12 -- Northwood (DH), 11:30 a.m.; 13 -- Saint Thomas (DH), 1 p.m.; 15 -- Coastal Georgia (DH), 2 p.m.; 18 -- at Thomas (DH) 1 p.m.; 22 -- Edward Waters (DH), 2 p.m.; 25 -- at Warner (DH), 1 p.m.; 26 -- at Ave Maria (DH), 1 p.m.

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