When the USC Beaufort softball team opens its season Saturday with a 1 p.m. doubleheader against Montreat at Hardeeville’s Richard Gray Sports Complex, there won’t be as many familiar faces as last season.
The Sand Sharks finished 42-14 a year ago en route to winning the Sun Conference Tournament title and advancing to the championship game of the NAIA Opening Round.
They finished 16th in the NAIA Softball Coaches Postseason Top 25 Poll and are picked by the league’s coaches to win the league this year.
Top returning players for the Sand Sharks include senior outfielder Missy Hughes (.426, 18 RBIs, 7 SBs), senior infielder Haley Brown (.347, 14 HRs, 43 RBIs), junior infielder Marissa Becker (.320, 18 SBs) and senior pitcher Ashlie Layman (4.45 ERA, 12-8 in 109 1/3 innings over 21 games).
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But USCB but must replace nine seniors who were part of the program's inaugural team in 2012 and who were a part of 161 wins over the first four seasons.
Coach Laura Heberling has reloaded the roster with eight freshmen and one transfer in hopes of continuing the program's strong tradition.
Junior pitcher Taylor Boyett (Toney, Ala.) comes to USCB after two seasons at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (Ga.) and will be joined on the pitching staff by freshman pitcher Abby Pac (Boca Raton, Fla.).
The Sand Sharks also added two potential battery mates for the new pitchers in freshman catchers Alex Adams (Seneca) and Bailee Barker (Gainesville, Fla.).
Henderling added two freshman infielders in Emma Erwin (Woodstock, Ga.) and Alexa Moore (Jacksonville, Fla.) and brought in three freshman outfielders in Maddie Ferguson (North Charleston), Kayla Boyle (Coral Springs, Fla.) and Brodie McGregor (Greer).