• Lillie Burke

SEASON PREVIEW: Meet the 2022 softball Bruins up to bat at Friday’s spring opener

With nine fresh faces on its roster, the Belmont University softball team is all set to open its season at the Florida Gulf Coast Invitational.

The Bruins will be batting at two back-to-back doubleheaders, playing Friday against the University of Memphis and FGCU and Saturday against Boston College and FGCU.

The team will finish off the weekend’s contests early Sunday morning with a final bout against Boston College, opening spring play with an intense few days on the diamond.

After finishing their 2021 season with a disappointing 15-26 record, head coach Laura Matthews and the Bruins have much to hope for this go-around after showing promise in the 10-game fall season.

And with 22 players on the roster as opposed to last year’s 16, the team has accumulated depth to work with over the offseason.

Transferring from Miami University, sophomore pitcher Emma Summers will look to bring the heat from the pitching circle for the Bruins this spring.

Additionally, after playing her freshman year but opting out in 2021, sophomore infielder Kristen Green will return to the lineup with hopes of continuing her dominant slugging performance.

The other newcomers are seven freshmen, including pitcher Delayna Bryant, catcher Kathryn Flowers and the twin sister duo of outfielder Indy Cockrill and infielder Emily Cockrill.

With only three departures over the offseason — utility player Alex Harris and graduating seniors Georgia McKee and Autumn McDaniel — experience should play a major factor to the Bruins’ season.

In a squad with 14 veteran players leading the charge, there will be little room for surprises.

Among the returners, senior outfielder Cheyenne Cavanaugh, who finished the 2021 season with a phenomenal .376 batting average, was recently named to the Ohio Valley Conference Players to Watch list.

She will look to further her electric performance in the batter’s box this season.

Besides roster additions, assistant coach Shannon Plese recently donned Belmont gear to coach Belmont’s outfield, a group which appears strong.

Led by Cavanaugh, junior Lauren Veltri and sophomore Gabrielle Givers, the squad will attempt to scoop anything in its sight.

The team’s athletic infield does not shy away from the challenge either.

At first base, junior Abi Ledbetter shows tremendous talent as her freshman year fielding percentage held flawless. Last season, she led the team in both sacrifice flies and fielding percentage.

Green also stands out at second base. Racking up four homers, nine runs scored and 12 RBIs in 2021, she looks to conquer any pitcher looking for trouble this season.

Other veterans include fifth-year senior shortstop Elison Ollinger and junior utility player MyKayla Spurlin at the hot corner.

Starting catcher Audrey Lyle is also a force to be reckoned with both behind the plate and in the batter’s box this season. Leading the 2021 team with seven home runs, the senior will bring offensive power to the squad.

The team’s pitching rotation will include Summers, Bryant, senior Alicia Veltri, sophomore Alex Clesi and junior Kailey Brown as they all look to strike out opposing sluggers.

The schedule: 51 regular-season games await

Before facing off against its OVC opponents, the Bruins will compete in three additional non-conference, multi-team invitationals similar to this weekend’s FGCU challenge.

Notable opponents include Southeastern Conference’s Mississippi State University, ASUN’s University of Central Arkansas and Sun Belt’s University of South Alabama.

After 13 scheduled road games, the Bruins will welcome three schools to E.S. Rose Park for the Bruin Classic starting Mar. 11.

Among the three, Bradley University stands out the most as the Bruins will test a future Missouri Valley Conference rival.

For its final out-of-conference competitor, the Bruins will play Dayton University — alma mater of coach Matthews’ and assistant coach Kennedy Haynes — for a Mar. 16 doubleheader.

From there, Belmont’s OVC run will begin in full swing.

First pitch will be on the road in Clarksville, Tennessee, facing off against Austin Peay University for a three-game series on Mar. 19.

After battling Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Tennessee State University and University of Tennessee at Martin, the Bruins will travel to coach Plese’s alma mater, Western Kentucky University, for a one-game non-conference contest on April 6.

Belmont will then host a three-game series against Murray State University before playing crosstown rival Lipscomb University, bringing the Battle of the Boulevard to E.S. Rose Park on April 13.

The Bruins’ final non-conference game will come April 20 when the team pays a visit to Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro.

From there, Belmont will face Morehead State University, TSU, Eastern Illinois University and 2021 OVC runner-up Southeast Missouri State scheduled for its final series of regular season play. 

The OVC tournament will begin on May 12 in Oxford, Alabama, where the Bruins hope to continue its season. 

Broadcasting the team, along with BU baseball games, for Bruin Sports Network on ESPN+, Fox Nashville sports director Jill Jelnick will have much content to cover as the Bruins look to transfer much energy and excitement to the media booth this season. 

The team’s extensive regular season begins Friday and the softball Bruins are determined to bring their best throughout the voyage.

PHOTO: Senior hitter and outfielder Cheyenne Cavanaugh at a 2021 season game. Jessica Mattsson / Belmont Vision

This article was written by A.J. Wuest.

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