Long Beach State softball only got two weeks of practice together before opening the regular season on Saturday at Fresno State.
“We definitely won’t be 100 percent ready,” LBSU coach Kim Sowder said. “We’re ready enough to at least get some work out of it and see where we’re at. We’re going to use the preseason as a fall season and compete the best we can, trust the process and stay safe with our athletes in the condition they’re in.”
Sowder and LBSU strength and conditioning coach Laura Teel are taking it slow and gradually adding more intense activity every day. The weight training and equipment restrictions are the biggest difference, according to Sowder.
“The bats aren’t up to speed just yet,” Sowder said. “So it’s kind of hard to see where they’re at. They need to develop strength and bat speed to go up against pitching that has experience and strength.”
The marquee matchup of LBSU’s 13 non-conference, 24-game Big West schedule is the March 6 home opener against No. 1 UCLA at the LBSU Softball Complex. It will be the first game on the campus field since March 9, 2020 when the Beach hosted the Louisville Slugger Invitational.
Big West action begins at home on March 20 against UC Riverside with a three-game series. The conference will put three games on the schedule for each weekend series, and teams have the choice to add a fourth non-conference game if it’s mutually agreed upon. The first of those for LBSU will come against UC San Diego on April 10. The Beach will also host rival and Big West favorites Cal State Fullerton on May 14 in the final series of the regular season.
LBSU was picked to finish second behind the Titans in the conference preseason poll, and Sowder thinks that’s because of her squad’s depth with six returning starters.
Fifth-year senior Breezy Wise is back after leading LBSU with a .380 batting average last year, and she leads a talented and experienced group of outfielders. Freshman Sara Olson, junior Rylie Seip, sophomore Maddy Ruffin and junior Naomi Hernandez are all on track to get playing time. Olson and Seip combined for 24 hits and 19 runs in 25 games at the top of the lineup last season.
“They’re a really good one-two punch,” Sowder said. “I love their speed and versatility at the plate. (Our lineup has) a good mix of speed and power.”
Junior first baseman Alyssa Gonzalez had a team-high 26 hits and 19 RBIs last year. She will be joined in the heart of the lineup by senior transfer Suzy Brookshire from San Jose State. Brookshire, who has played for the Mexican National Team, hit .356 and had a team-high eight home runs, 22 RBI and an .808 slugging percentage for SJSU last year. She will play shortstop.
Another transfer from SJSU will join talented returning senior Kelly White in the circle for LBSU. Freshman Shannon Haddad posted an 11-3 record last year with a 1.00 ERA in a team-high 18 appearances. She tossed complete games in all eight of her starts. LBSU played SJSU last year and Haddad picked up the win.
“I think we have a good reputation,” Sowder said of getting top transfers. “For the most part it’s players who want to come back home. This is a competitive program and it’s a good fit.”
Sowder added that getting multiple transfers from the same school, like what happened a few years ago with Ole Miss, isn’t something they plan.
“We certainly like the transfer option and picking up a player or two with experience,” Sowder said. “We like to have a mix. We’ve had great transfers and they’ve done well in our program.”
White pitched a team-high 82 innings with a 2.52 ERA for LBSU last year. Lefty freshman Morgan Quinlan and sophomore Samantha Fowler will come out of the bullpen.
Sowder said a pair of freshmen, Tiffany Iliff and Lilyanna Martinez, are battling for playing time at second base, but the COVID-19 limitations have been most detrimental to the incoming freshmen.
“We get so much out of the fall with so much strength training,” Sowder said. “We work with them so much and they get so much experience. You just don’t know how they’re going to react having not had a fall season.”
Last year, Sowder won her 400th game in 13 seasons at LBSU. The alum is also the active wins leader for the Big West, and one more win moves her into fourth-place all-time in the conference wins list. She said more conference wins won’t make or break this season.
“A successful season will be that our team shows how grateful we are everyday to be able to do what we love doing and that we make good decisions as far as staying healthy and safe with our boundaries during this pandemic,” Sowder said. “We’re fortunate to be back on the field because of the hard work our athletic department and University has put in and we want to represent The Beach with pride. A conference championship and a strong run in the post season would be the cherry on the top.”
LBSU has made the NCAA Tournament in seven of the last 12 seasons, but hasn’t played in the postseason since 2018.
“I feel like we have a good amount of talent,” Sowder said. “We’ve got to have things go our way so we can compete as much as possible. You never know. We’re taking 75-100 (COVID-19) tests a week and hoping everything comes out the way you need it to be able to compete every weekend. There’s a lot of factors.”