(Photo: Wesley Hitt/Arkansas)
St. George, Utah (Univ. of Ark.) - The University of Arkansas softball team will travel to Jackson, Miss. to square off with the Jackson State Lady Tigers in a doubleheader. Game one will begin Wednesday, Feb. 13 at 3 p.m. CT.
Arkansas started its season with five wins at the Red Desert Classic in St. George, Utah. This is the first time in Arkansas softball history that a team has started 5-0. Previously, the best start for the Hogs was 4-1 in 2012. Head coach Mike Larabee was happy with his team's success in Utah.
"This was an awesome start to our season," Larabee said. "We went out there with a goal of going 5-and-0. I think our players stepped it up. We had a couple of close games early on, but I am very pleased on how well we swung the bats. We had some excellent defense as well."
The Razorbacks were led in hitting by freshman Stephanie Canfield, who finished the Red Desert Classic with a batting average of .571. She notched two triples and finished with five RBI and three runs scored. Canfield also was a wizard with her glove, making a diving catch and gunning a runner down at home plate during the classic. Canfield is tied for fifth in the SEC in batting average through five games. Larabee praised the production of his young centerfielder.
"She is special," Larabee said. "She is a true triple-threat player. She can bunt, she can tap-slap and she can power-slap. She had a phenomenal weekend for us and she also made some great plays defensively."
Arkansas has five batters hitting over the .300 mark this season including; Canfield (.571), Chloe Oprzedek (.538), Devon Wallace (.400), Clarisa Navarro (.381), Amanda Geile (.333) and Jayme Gee (.333). These batters have also combined for three homeruns and 19 RBI. Oprzedek's slugging percentage of .923 is tied for 12th in the SEC. Larabee thought the hitting was a product of hard work during the offseason.
"We had several players that swung the bat well," Larabee said. "Canfield, Oprzedek, Devon Wallace, Clarisa Navarro, Amanda Geile and Nicole Schroeder all had a good weekend. We have been working hard on our swings. It paid off for us in Utah."
The reigning SEC Freshman of the Year, Devon Wallace, has started 2013 in the same fashion that she finished 2012. Wallace, after setting the UA single season walks record last season with 53, is already leading the SEC with seven walks this season. Wallace is hitting .400 and has scored eight runs in her five games played. Larabee is proud of the plate discipline of his sophomore.
"Teams are going to be very patient with her," Larabee said. "She will take that walk. She won't get impatient and chase balls out of the zone. We have a lineup now, that if they want to put her on, we will find a way to get her home."
Pitching was at a premium during the three days of the Red Desert Classic. Four Arkansas pitchers, Kimmy Beasley, Chelsea Cohen, Hope McLemore and Kelly Young, combined for a 1.40 ERA during the five games played. Cohen notched three wins while striking out 16 batters in three appearances. Beasley struck out eight in her seven innings pitched and Young was able to strike out nine in five innings. McLemore tallied the only save for Arkansas over the weekend. Larabee felt good about the pitching staff's performance this weekend.
"I was pleased with our pitchers," Larabee said. "They all pitched at a high level. As a coach, when you get to the postseason, you want great pitching and defense."
On Wednesday Arkansas (5-0) travels to Jackson, Miss. The Jackson State Lady Tigers (1-3) picked up its only win of the season at home versus Southeast Missouri State, 1-0. The Lady Tigers were outscored in their three losses by a combined score of 9-to-25. The Lady Tigers finished last season with a 32-17 record and posted a 12-4 record in the SWAC. Arkansas defeated Jackson State twice last season by scores of 5-4 and 4-3 in eight innings. Larabee does not want the team to overlook the Lady Tigers.
"They are a very well coached team," Larabee said. "They gave us all we could handle last year. They are a very athletic team and like to run. It will be a tough doubleheader for us."
After the doubleheader the Razorbacks travel to Tallahassee, Fla. for the Unconquered Invitational. Arkansas will face three 2012 NCAA tournament qualifying teams; Hofstra, Florida State and Tulsa. Game one versus Hofstra will begin on Feb. 15 at 9 a.m. CT.