2012 SEASON PREVIEWS: Darton, Andrew softball teams open seasons today vs. each other

Katy Jordan, the Darton College softball team’s ace, brings back an ERA of just 0.723 from last season. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

Katy Jordan, the Darton College softball team’s ace, brings back an ERA of just 0.723 from last season. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

ALBANY — Darton’s Katy Jordan has seen the NJCAA preseason softball poll.

But she doesn’t believe it.

Coming off a 2011 season in which the Lady Cavs won the Region XVII title, went 50-11 and finished a program-best No. 5 at nationals, Darton is ranked a puzzling 18th in the preseason poll heading into today’s season opener at neighboring Andrew College in Cuthbert.

After 4-32 record in 2011, Andrew searching for one thing: improvement

CUTHBERT — Andrew softball coach Mark Brown didn’t shy away from the lack of success his program has had in recent years.

“We’ve traditionally been at the bottom of the barrel in softball in our conference,” Brown, whose Lady Tigers finished 4-32 last season and failed to make the Region XVII tournament, said Monday on the eve of his team’s 2012 season opener.

But with some key returners and a host of freshmen who won nearly half of their 17 games in the fall season, Brown is saying this year could be a totally different story.

“We signed some pretty strong players,” he said. “Those freshmen that we added will help us out offensively, and that’s where we were lacking more than anywhere last year.

“Our goal is to get to the (region) tournament, which six of the nine teams make it. Big boys Darton, Georgia Perimeter and Middle Georgia — it’s usually a pretty good bet those three will make it. The rest of us six are going for the other three spots. I think if we can take care of our business with the other six then we can have a shot at the playoffs.”

Leading the way for the Lady Tigers will be Westover grad Alli Cook, who was one of just two pitchers on last year’s staff. This year Andrew has four pitchers — Cook and freshmen Carley Daniel, Halei Scarboro and Hannah Ballingall.

“Our pitching isn’t going to be overwhelming, but we definitely have more of it,” Brown said. “Alli will be our top pitcher. She has a lot of movement and hits her spots. She isn’t a strikeout pitcher, so we will need to back her up on defense.”

Freshman Lindsey Harman will lead off and be key in jump-starting the Lady Tigers’ batting order, which will be anchored by Karli Smith, Chelsea Hodges and Brittany Rodgers in the middle of the order. Randolph Southern grad Amber Boyett and Early County alum Courtney Floyd are part of a number of freshmen who will contribute off the bench.

After opening up today at home against Darton, the Lady Tigers won’t be home again until Feb. 25 when they host East Georgia.

Jordan and the rest of the Lady Cavs have a message to those national pollsters.

“We’re not ranked 18th. In our minds we’re not,” said Jordan, the team’s No. 1 pitcher who was named a NJCAA Preseason All-American — the first in the history of the Darton program. “We are just going to come out and prove everybody wrong, and that’s all we can do. We can show everybody that we aren’t ranked 18th.”

The Lady Cavs, who begin their 2012 campaign against a Lady Tigers team they’ve dominated over the years, have just four starters back from last season. But that isn’t stopping Jordan from having even higher expectations.

“Fifth may sound awesome to you all, but we want to be No. 1,” Jordan said.

Jordan, who has already committed to East Tennessee State for her junior season, was the ace of last year’s team and is expected to be even better this season. In 184 innings last season, she gave up just 83 hits and 19 earned runs, giving her an ERA of 0.723. Also returning for the Lady Cavs’ pitching staff will be Leesburg native and former Terrell Academy star Amanda Cook, outfielder Chantelle Curinton and middle infielder Amanda Jaskolski.

Cook will join Jordan and freshman Jenny Willis to make up the team’s pitching staff, while Curinton and Jaskolski will be key anchors in the batting order.

Other than those four and newcomer Erica Vasquez, the 14-player roster is full of freshmen, but that hasn’t stopped the youthful squad from playing with maturity and hustle, fifth-year coach David Dews said.

“They work really hard and are a close-knit group,” said Dews, who coached the Lady Cavs to a sixth-place finish at nationals in 2009. “They play together real well and enjoy playing with each other. That’s one of the similarities between this team and other teams (who came off good seasons).”

The Lady Cavs’ outgoing class was loaded with talent and several of them continued their softball careers at four-year schools, including star pitcher Cara Law (Lindsey Wilson College, Ky.), power hitter Jane Egiazarova (Lindsey Wilson College), Josie Cox (Lindsey Wilson College), Jordan Cole (Delta State, Miss.), Dionne Bishop (Thomas University), Brittny Dennison (Georgia Southwestern) and Monique Wooten (Miles College).

With all of those key losses from last season, several freshmen will be asked to play huge roles on this year’s team.

“I know our team is young but I think we can (be as good as last year) because of the talent we have,” Cook said. “As long as we play together like we can play, we can make it back and do probably better than we did last year if we play like we are capable of.”

The Lady Cavs lost a lot of power from last year’s team, but Dews said the freshmen hitters have stepped up to the plate and stepped into the entirely new ball game that is college softball with ease.

“Their understanding of how we run our offenses is pretty good right now,” Dews said. “We will get tested when we open up (today), but I feel really good about some of the things we have been doing.”

And if Jaskolski has learned anything in her two years as a Lady Cav, Dews’ guidance will take them exactly where they want to go.

“If you listen to Dews and do exactly what he asks you, then you will be a great ball player,” she said. “He can take a team of nobodies and turn them into somebodies.”

Dews changed those “somebodies” into a Top 5 team in the nation last season.

And that’s why Jordan isn’t paying attention to that No. 18 preseason ranking — because that’s likely to change, too.