Softball, Sports, Women's Sports

LBSU softball begins the 2015 season on Friday

The Long Beach State softball team’s quest for a second consecutive Big West title begins Friday in the SoCal Collegiate Classic at the 49er Softball Complex.

The 49ers will open up the season with a double header against Sacramento State and Northwestern State. The opening tournament will continue on Saturday with another double header against Utah and Idaho State, and wrap up on Sunday with a final matchup against Utah.

“We’re working as hard as we can to get ready,” head coach Kim Sowder said. “We’ll find out right away on Friday.”

Sowder, the 2014 Big West Coach of the Year, will be entering her ninth  season in charge of the 49ers. Sowder won her third conference championship last year and led the 49ers to the NCAA Tournament again.

Three first-team All-Big West selections graduated after the 2014 season: pitcher Erin Jones-Wesley and infielders Cya Neal and Ashlynn Booker. Out of all the departures, the 49ers will miss Jones-Wesley’s arm the most. The 2011 Big West Player of the Year set school all-time records for strikeouts, wins and appearances before graduating last year.

Jones-Wesley is working as a communications coordinator and softball instructor at the Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy.

Returning to the 49ers will be 2014 Big West Defensive Player of the Year and shortstop Shayna Kimbrough, first-team All-Big West selection and right-hander Amanda Hansen and second-team All-Big West selections Lauren Lombardi and Darian Tautalafua.

The 49ers have many new faces on the team, but the players and coaches believe in the newcomers as well as the established veterans.

“I think that we’ve got a lot of talent,” Lombardi said. “And I think that we can do really well as long as we keep that energy up and work hard.”

The 49ers will have a tough start to an already difficult preseason schedule. The Big Sky Conference preseason coaches poll picked Idaho State to win the conference and Sacramento State to finish second. The same poll for the Southland Conference picked Northwestern State to win that conference.

“It’s going to be a challenge right away for our team,” Sowder said. “Every single one of these teams coming in is an experienced team that has had a lot of success.”

The Pac-12 preseason coaches poll picked Utah to finish sixth in the conference. However, the Utes have five ranked teams in their conference. Playing against the top teams in the nation every year makes Utah a dangerous opponent. Last year, Utah beat the 49ers 11-3.

“We’re very familiar with Utah,” Sowder said. “We’ve played them quite a bit, and they returned their whole team, just about.”

The schedule will only get more difficult for the 49ers this season. Senior infielder Ashley Holmes said the key to doing well will be to keep it simple.

“[We need to] just go out and play softball like any other day, not to think too much,” senior infielder Ashley Holmes said.

The biggest question going into the opening tournament will be whether the pitching staff will be good enough to keep pace with their experienced lineup. Sowder will use a three-person rotation consisting of senior right-handers Hansen, Christian Carbajal and sophomore right-hander Christina Clermont to start the season.

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