The Southern Utah University softball program opened up play at the Mike Candera Classic last weekend in Tucson, Arizona against some of the top teams in the country. The Thunderbirds dropped all five of their games in the tournament, making things seem bleak at the moment, but this team is full of talent with returning players and incoming additions that will make an impact.
In 2021, Southern Utah had its best season in six years. The team won 20 games and finished in second place at the end of the regular season before going on to make a deep run in the Big Sky Tournament before losing to Portland State in the championship game. They also had an incredible offensive season, leading the conference with 60 home runs and 248 runs batted in.
Key Thunderbirds returning
SUU has several crucial players returning from last season, highlighted by redshirt junior Josey White who will be at the center of their success. White had a monstrous 2021 season, recording a .386 batting average with 61 hits, 13 home runs, 48 RBIs, 15 doubles and a 1.162 on-base percentage. White did not suit up last weekend due to an injury in the preseason but is expected to be back amongst the starting nine soon.
First baseman Reilly Williams will be stepping into a new role this year. Williams finished last season with four hits and four RBI’s in the Big Sky Tournament and earned all-tournament honors. She already began to answer the call during the season opener in Tucson by hitting three for eight and leading off their first game against No. 9 Arizona University with a first-inning dinger.
Other Thunderbirds returning with pivotal bats include seniors Gianna Carosone and Makall Whetten. Carosone was extremely efficient last season, batting .269 with ten doubles and 13 RBIs. Whetten was a catalyst a season ago, batting .262 with ten home runs, ten doubles and 27 RBIs.
Defensively, Grace Owen is entering her third season on the mound for SUU. Owen appeared in eight games last season for the Thunderbirds with 50 strikeouts.
Keimon Winston is a crafty right-handed addition to the SUU rotation. This last week, she had the chance to face off against some of the country’s best talent, tallying eight strikeouts on the weekend.
Jayne Sepulveda is a scrappy infielder that has the opportunity to make an immediate impact during her first year. Sepulveda racked up two hits against the University of Arizona and New Mexico University.
Transfer portal acquisitions
One of the focal points of head coach Don Don Williams has been to become active in the transfer portal. The Thunderbirds grabbed two vital players from the transfer portal, starting with Baylor University Lefty pitcher Madison Lindsey. Lindsey recorded a 3.66 earned run average with 37 strikeouts. SUU also picked up catcher Makenna Calderon from the University of Utah. Calderon’s experience in Power Five-play will be huge for the Thunderbirds as she will be the starter behind the plate.
The Thunderbirds are now looking ahead to another tournament with solid competition at the Campbell Cartier Classic in San Diego, California. They will face off against the University of California State Northridge, California Baptist University, San Diego State University and Army West Point from Friday, Feb. 18 through Sunday, Feb. 20.
Story by: Seth Whitehouse
Photo Courtesy of SUU Athletics