February 8, 2012

North Georgia Set to Host 2012 Loyal Blue Classic

Contact Joey Daniels, jddani9448@northgeorgia.edu


DAHLONEGA, GA – With much anticipation, the North Georgia softball season is finally here. The 2012 Loyal Blue Classic will be the beginning of what hopes to be another successful season for the Saints.

With four teams in action this weekend and seven games on the schedule, this year's Loyal Blue Classic certainly has intrigue. Tusculum, Bellarmine and North Greenville will join North Georgia as part of this year's group.

North Georgia will play Tusculum twice, while only playing North Greenville and Bellarmine once. The Saints also meet Bellarmine later this year in a doubleheader at home on March 7.

Here's a preview of the teams competing in this year's 2012 Loyal Blue Classic and what to look for:

North Georgia Saints

 2011 Record: 53-12 (17-3 PBC)
 Postseason: 2011 NCAA College World Series (1-2)
 2012 Preseason Conference Prediction: 1st (out of 11 teams)
 Starters Returning: 5 Starters Lost: 4
 2011 Team Batting Average: .297
 2011 Team ERA: 1.54

 Players to Watch
 P-Jessica Coan (#12)  | 27-5 | 1.09 ERA | 334 K's | 8 shutouts|
   2011- National Pitcher of the Year (POY), S.E. Region POY, Peach Belt POY, NFCA All-American

C/3B-Hilary Cox (#18)  |.338 AVG | 14 HR | 48 RBI |.662 SLG% |
  2011- 1st-Team All-Region, 1st-Team Peach Belt All-Conference

CF- Pilar Harden (#1)  |.303 AVG | 11 HR | 45 RBI | .535 SLG% |                 
  2011- 2nd-Team All-Region, 2nd-Team Peach Belt All-Conference

After making three straight trips to the College World Series it's safe to say that the sky is limit for this North Georgia team. Led by their three seniors (see above), North Georgia will have the advantage of quality experience and leadership. This senior class has compiled a stunning 154-19 record going into this season, simply amazing.

The Saints will also march the best pitcher at the Division II level to the circle in just about every game this season. Jessica Coan will look to somehow one-up her incredible season from a year ago. Coan led the Peach Belt Conference in strikeouts with 334 and eight shutouts. With the graduation of Sarah Phillips, Coan will bear the entire load for 2012 North Georgia Saints.

North Georgia will begin the season ranked No. 3 in the NFCA Division II Preseason Poll. Three early season tournaments highlight the schedule this season for the Saints as they partake in the UAH Ringor Charger Chillout (6 games), ESPN-Disney Citrus Classic (5 games) and the Mid South Classic (5 games). North Georgia split with Tusculum last season as part of the 2011 Captain D's Classic and will be looking to get revenge against the Pioneers in their opening game of the season. The Saints have never played Bellarmine and hold a 2-0 advantage over North Greenville.

The Saints have started the season no worse than 6-0 the past four seasons and an even better 12-0 over the past two seasons.

North Georgia is clearly the cream of the crop at this season's Loyal Blue Classic. The Saints are also going to be relying on a couple of young players to step up this season. If the bats of Hilary Cox and Pilar Harden stay on fire and Katherine Martin has another breakout season like she did her freshman year, the Saints should be right where they want to be, come the middle of May. Head coach Mike Davenport has to find a consistent lead-off hitter and another solid option to compliment Coan in the circle. If all this happens, North Georgia will enjoy the pleasure of another successful season.



Tusculum College Pioneers

 2011 Record: 32-17 (11-7 SAC)
 Postseason: South Atlantic Conference (SAC) Tournament-No. 4 seed (0-2)
 2012 Preseason Conference Prediction: 5th (out of 10 teams)
 Starters Returning: 7 Starters Lost: 2
 2011 Team Batting Average: .252
 2011 Team ERA: 1.95

Players to Watch
P-Elizabeth Johnson (#30)  | 17-5 | 1.16 ERA | 78 K's | 7 shutouts|
  2011- 2nd-Team All-Region, SAC Statistical Leader with 1.16 ERA

3B/OF-Savannah Ewing (#19)  |.320 AVG | 8 2B | 21 RBI |.415 SLG% |
  2011- Led Team with .320 Batting Average, 2nd on Team with 47 hits

The Pioneers return nearly the entire starting lineup from a year ago, including the team's top pitcher in Elizabeth Johnson. Johnson earned All-Region honors last year and led the SAC with a dominating 1.16 ERA. Tusculum used primarily two pitchers last year. One of them was Johnson and the other graduated. The Pioneers are in a similar situation as North Georgia, Tusculum will have to find another option to spell Johnson on occasions.

The lineup returning has some key experience. With only two starting position players gone, Tusculum returns six players who played in at least 46 games (the team played a total of 49). The departure of Taylor MacDonald leaves a void in the lineup though; MacDonald was second on the team with a .314 batting average and also earned 2nd-Team SAC All-Conference honors.

Tusculum was picked to finish right in the middle of the pack of the SAC. With the obvious exception of perennial powerhouse Lenoir-Rhyne, currently ranked No. 9 in the country and preseason favorite, Tusculum has expectations of being right near the top of the conference this season. With a strong pitcher in Johnson taking the circle and a host of experience picking up the bats, the Pioneers should again be a team to reckon with in the SAC and the Loyal Blue Classic.



Bellarmine University Knights

 2011 Record: 27-17 (14-8 GLVC)
 Postseason: Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC) Tournament-No. 6 seed (0-2)
 2012 Preseason Conference Prediction: 4th (out of 8 teams in West Division)
 Starters Returning: 5 Starters Lost: 4
 2011 Team Batting Average: .279
 2011 Team ERA: 2.73

Players to Watch
SS-Megan Murdoch (#15)  | .375 AVG | 12 HR | 13 2B | 39 RBI |
  2011- NFCA 2nd-Team All-Region, 2nd-Team Midwest All-Region

1B-Lauren Summe (#16)  |.367 AVG | 28 runs | 9 HR | 26 RBI|
  2011- NFCA 1st-Team All-Region, 1st-Team GLVC All-Conference, 2nd-Team Midwest All-Region

Bellarmine will come into the Loyal Blue Classic as the only team to have already logged a game in the 2012 season, after they split with Carson-Newman on Sunday. The Knights started three freshmen in that doubleheader, including left-handed pitcher Alicia Miller. Miller will be asked to throw a majority of innings this year alongside senior Amanda Meyer, who picked up the win against Carson-Newman.

The Knights will have one the best 3-4 hitting combos in the GLVC and potentially Division II with Megan Murdoch and Lauren Summe. The pair of All-Region players combined for 55 runs scored, 20 doubles, 21 home runs and 65 RBI's. With these two bats at the core, Bellarmine will have the power most teams do not have on their lineup card.

The GLVC is good this year, as usually is the case. Bellarmine will be challenged all season long, but certainly will have the capability to beat anyone in the league. It's the newcomers who hold the key to the success of this season, assuming Amanda Meyer stays the course as the senior-leader-pitcher. Murdoch and Summe will get their numbers; the Knights have to put girls on base when those two step up to the plate to give Bellarmine that golden opportunity come May.



North Greenville University Crusaders

 2011 Record: 23-25
 Postseason: Won National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) National Championship
 Preseason Conference Prediction: 7th (out of 12 teams)
 Starters Returning: 7 Starters Lost: 2
 2011 Team Batting Average: .247
 2011 Team ERA: 2.45

Players to Watch
P/SS-Kimberly Robertson (#7)  | .296 AVG | 40 hits | 8 2B | 4-3, 2.44 ERA|
  2011- NCCAA South Region Team

2B-Kansas Wofford (#1)  |.283 AVG | 5 HR | 16 RBI | 41 hits |
  2011- Led Team with 41 hits

North Greenville will begin its first full season as a member of the Conference Carolinas, after previously playing independently in the NCCAA. The Crusaders really only lose one key player from last year's national championship team, that player however would be the Crusaders' skeleton key. Taylor Roof did it all for NG, she pitched in 33 games recording a 2.10 ERA with 144 strikeouts, while also crushing a team-leading eight home runs. Roof had 28 RBI's, 12 more than the next closest player. So while the Crusaders bring back seven starters from a year ago, a huge void was left with the graduation of Roof.

The Crusaders will only participate on Saturday, which will be their first action of the season. Last year they were swept by Tusculum failing to score a run (7-0 combined score in the two games).

Two NCCAA All-Region players return in Robertson and Marielena Santos, along with five other starters. North Greenville is faced with the daunting task of entering NCAA Division II play, and doing so without their top pitcher and top hitter from a year ago. Lots of experience will be back in the black jerseys for the Crusaders, and a group that is no stranger to success. The outcome and success of this season is unclear, but North Greenville certainly will be ready to make an impact in the Conference Carolinas, and maybe even further.