Softball hopes to capitalize on last year’s success

Andrew Holtan, Sports Reporter

Expectations are at an all-time high for the South Dakota State softball team, who return a majority of their offense. Last year, the Jacks went 37-18 and went to their first postseason tournament in the Division I era.

The Jacks fell one game short of making the NCAA Tournament last season when they dropped to North Dakota State in the Summit League Championship game. They played in the National Invitational Softball Championship and came in second place.

Head softball coach Kerry Wood said the goal for her team this year is to win the Summit League and make the Division I NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.

“We’ve set the standard a little bit higher this year,” Wood said. “We continue to keep working on strengths and improve our weaknesses. Our goal is to win the league and we fell short of it last season. So, we’re very motivated.”

Offensively, the Jacks will be propelled by a side that led the Summit League in runs scored and batting average last season.

The Jacks return three of their top five hitters from last season in seniors Ali Herdliska, Julia Andersen and Megan Rushing. Herdliska led the team with 10 home runs last season.

Andersen also made an impact at the plate and was second on the team with a batting average of .397 last season.

South Dakota State won’t return their main pitcher, Madison Hope, who graduated. Hope finished last season with a record of 23-9 and 3.65 ERA. The Jacks will return sophomore Taylor Compton, who went 9-8 last season and had a 4.51 ERA. Wood said she is excited to see who will step up and be the main pitcher.

“We have six pitchers on our staff this year,” Wood said. ”They’re all freshmen and sophomores. Taylor Compton and Emma Hardin have stepped up in the preseason. But we have four other kids that can help and I think it’s going to be a pitch by committee season for us.”

With such a young pitching staff, Wood said the returners in the field may need to step up.

“We have a veteran defense and a veteran offense,” Wood said. “So, I think that’s definitely going to help our pitchers feel a little bit more comfortable.”

The Jacks opened the season at the University of Northern Iowa Dome Classic this past weekend in Cedar Falls, Iowa. SDSU went 3-2 on the weekend with victories over Saint Louis and Drake.

SDSU will head Feb. 15 to Jacksonville, Florida in order to play in the UNF Osprey/Dolphin Invitational. The team will face Colgate, North Florida, Jacksonville and College of Charleston.

It won’t be until April 6 when the Jackrabbits take Erv Huether Field for their first home game of the season.