MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Sports

February 4, 2013

Connors State Cowgirls have high hopes for season

Although the weather has not completely warmed up, it’s still opening day for the Connors State softball team.

The Cowgirls begin their 2013 season at 2 p.m. today in Warner against Independence Community College.

Rick Carbone begins his 18th year as coach of the Cowgirls, sporting a 593-335 overall record, and believes his 2013 club has the potential to return to the National Junior Athletic Association College World Series in St. George, Utah for the first time since the 1996.

“I really believe this club has the potential to be one of my better ball clubs if the pitching holds up,” said Carbone. “This could be a tough team to deal with and has the potential to get us to the college world series.”

A year ago, the Cowgirls reached the NJCAA Region 2 semifinals losing to Western State and finishing the year at 26-28 overall.

This year’s Cowgirls squad returns five players off that team including second baseman Ashley Dunigan, who set school record with 55 stolen bases while hitting .348. Pitcher Jerelyn Long returns and looks to improve on her 2.14 earned run average.

Also returning are Summer Cunningham, who led Connors with a .429 batting average with 19 runs batted in and five home runs, third baseman Trinity Busby and catcher Blaine Matheson.

Carbone brings 14 freshmen into the fold this season and he thinks that gives him a very good defensive ball club that will hit the ball, along with some excellent pitching.

Six of the freshmen are Kali Romine from Muskogee, Erin Isham from Hilldale, Caitlyn Craig from Fort Gibson, Chelsie Drew and Leiloni Smith from Vian and Whittney Whittmore from Tahlequah.

Pitching is key to the Cowgirls and their run toward the national finals and much of that will fall on the shoulders of Craig, Long and freshman Jessica Christian.

“All three of those pitchers took their high school teams to the state tournaments,” Carbone said. “But the key to pitching is stay away from the injury bug. We know they can do the job if they just stay healthy.”

Offensively, Carbone says his club potentially can be very good, with Cunningham, Dunigan and freshman Amanda O’Neal. He also states that Drew, Romine and Whittmore have strong bats.

“We are going to be a line-drive hitting team with some power,” Carbone said. “We also have above average speed.”

On the defensive side the ball Carbone points to his outfield as the strength of his squad.

“We will be super strong in the outfield with big steady gloves,” he said. “The middle infield should be steady for us and behind the plate, we have two catchers with experience in Cunningham and Matheson.”

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