Feb 28, 2018
EUREKA, Ill. -- The Eureka College softball team will begin the 2018 season at the Fastpitch Dreams Spring Classic in North Myrtle Beach, S.C. for the seventh consecutive year when the Red Devils take the field Sunday at 12:30 p.m. CST against SUNY Poly.
The Red Devils will depart O'Hare International Airport in Chicago early Saturday before playing eight different NCAA Division III opponents over five days at the Central Park Sports Complex. Eureka owns a 22-25 combined record at the event since 2012, but has won 11 of its last 16 games in North Myrtle Beach over the last two spring trips.
ALL AROUND ME ARE FAMILIAR FACES
The Red Devils return six players that made at least 80 plate appearances and two pitchers that fired at least 90 innings from last season's 21-win team, including three All-St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference First Team selections. Shortstop Kerrigan Dura, pitcher and second baseman Kali George and center fielder Krysten Wallace headline the group of returners that helped Eureka rank 21st nationally with 6.6 runs scored per game last season.
Dura enters the 2018 season as arguably the most dominant hitter in program history. Her .510 career batting average (126-for-247) is nearly 100 points better than any other Red Devil in program history to make at least 100 plate appearances. In just two seasons, she's the owner of six single-season hitting records and appears on the Red Devils' all-time lists with39 doubles (second), 91 RBI (fifth), 126 hits (ninth) and 80 runs (ninth). She has struck out seven times in 286 career plate appearances.
George is one of the most consistent and reliable hurlers in program history, entering this spring with 36 wins to rank second on the Red Devils' all-time list. George's 183 strikeouts rank eight in program history and her 378.2 career innings are third-most at Eureka. George can break Donita Williams's all-time record of 457.1 innings with 79.0 more in the cirlce in 2018. The East Peoria native has also been a force offensively for the Red Devils -- George owns a .350 career average and ranks seventh all-time at EC with 88 RBI.
Wallace has started all 110 games of her Eureka career as a steady defensive presence in center field. She currently shares the all-time Eureka record with 57 career walks and also ranks sixth with 105 runs scored and ninth with 25 stolen bases.
Deidra Whightsil is one of only three four-year players on the roster, having started 105 games since 2015. She has 13 career assists, most by an outfielder on the active roster. Kurtz appeared in all 36 games as a freshman, hitting .256 with 16 RBI. She was particularly versatile on defense, making 18 starts at second base and another 12 starts in the outfield.
As a freshman last season, Osborn appeared in 35 contests mostly in the outfield before taking over as Eureka's every-day catcher for the final 13 games. The Wahsington, Ill. native put up a line of .309/.374/.482 over 124 plate appearances primarily out of the cleanup slot while leading the Red Devils and ranking third in the SLIAC with 13 doubles.
Smith broke a Eureka freshman record with six home runs last spring. She slugged at a .687 clip over 67 at bats, doubled seven times and and drove in 28 runs. She also picked up nine wins in the pitching circle, striking out 61 hitters over 90.1 innings.
NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK
Five newcomers have joined the program for 2018, all of which are freshmen with four years of collegiate eligibility. Infielders Allison Cagley (Prairie Central) and Adrianna Zeman (La Salle-Peru) join outfielder Klaire Wilmot (La Salle-Peru), catcher Danielle Brittain (Eureka) and pitcher Brittany Wood (Limestone) as new members of the Red Devils this spring.
HEAD COACHING 101
Sixth-year head coach Debi Neff will enter Sunday's opener on the Atlantic Coast in search of her 101st collegiate victory at Eureka. The LaHarpe, Ill. native became Eureka's first softball coach to reach 100 wins 'Neath the Elms since 1996 after a 9-0 triumph at Knox on April 25, 2017.
Neff's five-year record of 100-80 includes a 42-46 mark against SLIAC opponents. The Red Devils' 100 wins since the beginning of the 2013 season represent EC's most successful five-year run since winning 101 contests from 1996 through 2000.
PRESEASON SLIAC POLL
A January poll conducted by SLIAC head coaches has selected Eureka to finish fifth in the league in 2018, according to an announcement from the league office. Defending SLIAC Tournament champion Greenville edged reigning regular-season champion Westminster as the conference's preseason favorite.
Greenville received four first-place votes for 76 points, one better than Westminster's point total of 75. The Blue Jays collected five-first place votes. Webster was picked third, followed by Spalding in the fourth position. Fontbonne followed Eureka in the sixth slot. Iowa Wesleyan, Blackburn, Principia and MacMurray secured the bottom four slots in the poll.
Conferennce action begins Wednesday, March 21. The top four teams at the end of the 18-game league schedule will qualify for the double-elimination SLIAC Tournament scheduled to begin May 3 at ABC Park in St. Ann, Mo.
SCOUTING THE OPPOSITION
Eureka's eight opponents scheduled for the Fastpitch Dreams Spring Classic -- all members of NCAA Division III -- combined for a 125-150 record last season. Only Penn College (21-13), Eastern Mennonite (22-16) and Cedar Crest (23-13) put up a winning record and none of the eight teams qualified for the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
The Red Devils' opponents represent six Division III conferences, including three games against North Eastern Athletic Conference foes -- SUNY Poly, Penn College and Penn State-Abington.