University of South Carolina Beaufort softball coach Ty Rietkovich likens the Sand Sharks' successful debut season last year to a trip to Sin City.
"It's like your first trip to Vegas and you put the first quarter in the slot and hit the big payout," Rietkovich said. "It doesn't happen all the time, and we're going to have to work harder. People are going to be gunning for us now."
In the program's first year, USC Beaufort won 37 games against only 11 losses -- roughly one for every freshman the Sand Sharks started last season, according to Rietkovich.
"First-year programs aren't supposed to win 37 games," Rietkovich said. "But the girls did a good job overall. We didn't do a good job in some of the losses, in handling late-game situations, but that comes with experience."
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
That lone year of experience is a good reason why the Sand Sharks have targets on their backs. They return their primary starter at every position, including All-Sun Conference performers Melanie Goolsby (.385, 2 home runs, 25 RBIs, 19 of 20 stolen bases) and Shelby Zipperer (.409, 3, 36, 13/16) in the outfield and second baseman Katie Rietkovich (.455, 10, 60, 18/20).
And when the Sand Sharks take the field at 1 p.m. Saturday at Richard Gray Sports Complex in Hardeeville for their season-opening doubleheader against St. Andrews, All-Sun Conference pitcher Kristy Cook (1.42 ERA, 20-5, 156 strikeouts) will be in the circle.
After Cook, however, there will be some new faces. Two veteran pitchers are out for the Sand Sharks. Cara Jamerson (0.69, 4-0) will redshirt as she returns from elbow surgery, and Caroline Pastre (2.48, 8-6) is on the mend after having shoulder surgery.
Enter freshman Ashlie Layman and transfers Caitlin Campbell, a lefty from Armstrong Atlantic, and Becca Hewitt, a righty from Coastal Georgia.
"Kristy can't pitch every game, and we're not counting on her to," Ty Rietkovich said. "We expect Ashlie and Caitlin and Becca to all get a lot of time. It's going to be helpful to have Kristy Cook share her experiences from a year ago and help those girls in the circle."
Cook says she's been spending a lot of time with Layman, last season's Island Packet/Beaufort Gazette player of the year at Thomas Heyward Academy.
"We talk about pitching every single day," Cook said. "Over lunch. At dinner. She's a very experienced pitcher, but she doesn't understand the college level quite yet. We watch videos and go over it and over it and over it."
The coaches, around the conference and the country, don't seem too concerned with any pitching issues the Sand Sharks may have. USC Beaufort was picked to win the Sun Conference and is ranked 21st in the NAIA Preseason Coaches Top 25.
"I expect everybody's best," Rietkovich said. "I think people took us lightly last year."
"We definitely have a name for ourselves now and everybody wants to beat USCB," Cook said. "... We have targets on our backs. Everybody's going to play the best defense, everybody's going to play the best offense against us they possibly can, and we know that. All we have to do is play our game, stay relaxed and play toward our goals and we'll be fine."
St. Andrews at No. 21 USC Beaufort (DH)
1 p.m. Saturday, Richard Gray Sports Complex, Hardeeville
Series: First meeting
About St. Andrews: The Knights are new to NAIA this season after going 8-44 last year at the NCAA Division II level in the Conference Carolinas.
USC Beaufort Roster
No. Player Class Pos.
00 Caitlin Vaughn Sr. C
2 Sam Boland So. INF
3 Cara Jamerson So. P/INF
5 Chelsey Blasingame So. UTL
7 Kristy Cook So. P
8 Paige Adams Sr. INF
9 Kayla Logue Fr. C/UTL
10 Caroline Pastre R-Jr. P
11 Ashlie Layman Fr. P
12 Melanie Goolsby R-Jr. OF
13 Rebekah Herty Jr. INF
14 Mariaha Sanborn So. INF
15 Amanda Brown So. C
16 Maddie Byrd So. INF
17 Victoria Hilton Jr. P/INF
18 Lauren Hill So. OF
20 Caitlin Campbell So. P
21 Taylor Triplett So. INF
22 C.J. Browder Jr. INF/C
23 Jordan Abercrombie So. UTL
25 Whitley Martin Fr. C/OF
26 Missy Hughes Fr. OF
30 Becca Hewitt Sr. P
32 Sammi Shaffren So. OF
41 Shelby Zipperer So. OF
81 Katie Rietkovich R-Jr. INF
99 Alexandria Simmons Jr. INF
USC Beaufort Schedule
2 -- vs. St. Andrews (DH), 1 p.m., 3 p.m.
9 -- vs. Southern Wesleyan University (DH), 1 p.m., 3 p.m.
10 -- at Savannah State, 1 p.m.
10 -- at Morgan State, 3 p.m.
13 -- vs. Edward Waters (DH), 4 p.m., 6 p.m.
22 -- at Truett-McConnell (DH), noon, 2 p.m.
23 -- at Emmanuel College (DH), noon, 2 p.m.
1-14 -- TBD, Smash Hit Tournament, TBD
4 -- vs. Columbia College (DH), 4 p.m., 6 p.m.
13 -- vs. Georgia Gwinnett (DH), 3 p.m., 5 p.m.
14 -- vs. Brewton-Parker (DH), 4 p.m.
22 -- at Ave Maria (DH), 1 p.m., 3 p.m.
23 -- at Indiana Institute of Technology (DH), 9 a.m., 11 a.m.
24 -- at Edward Waters (DH), 1 p.m., 3 p.m.
26 -- at Southern Wesleyan (DH), 4 p.m., 6 p.m.
29 -- vs. Thomas University (DH), 1 p.m., 3 p.m.
3 -- at Columbia College (DH), 4 p.m., 6 p.m.
6 -- vs. Webber International (DH), 1 p.m., 3 p.m.
7 -- vs. Embry-Riddle (DH), 1 p.m., 3 p.m.
13 -- at Northwood University (DH), 1 p.m., 3 p.m.
14 -- at Saint Thomas (DH), 1 p.m., 3 p.m.
17 -- at Georgia Gwinnett (DH), 2 p.m., 4 p.m.
26 -- vs. Warner (DH), 4 p.m., 6 p.m.
27 -- vs. Southeastern (DH), 1 p.m., 3 p.m.
2-4 -- Sun Conference Tournament, Clermont, Fla.
13-15 -- NAIA Opening Round, TBD
24-30 -- NAIA National Tournament, Columbus, Ga.