2011 Preview: Outfield
Jan. 19, 2011
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – With lots of experience returning to the Memphis softball team, hopes are high for a breakthrough season, but one area that might be a little green early on is the team’s outfield. Only Alex Marshall, and Lelani Bernadino bring experience to this unit from last season, but the return of Kamri Chester from a redshirt season, and moving senior Maddie McKinley from third base to right field will help make this unit a strength as the season goes on.
“I’ll take our outfield over any group in the country,” said head coach Windy Thees. “Adding Maddie out there just makes us that much better.”
The trio of Marshall, Bernadino and Chester, will give the outfield a speedy and , aggressive approach heading into the 2011 season. Maddie McKinley’s speed on the basepaths, should translate to the covering ground in right field, and her power at the plate should help make this group as productive at the plate as it will be in the field.
Bernardino, who has played in every game since arriving on campus in 2009, was a solid No. 2 hitter last season for Memphis, batting .294 with eight doubles and 10 steals. A second-team all-conference choice on the heels of her All-Freshman team selection in 2009, Bernardino is a strong top-of-the-order catalyst for a Memphis offense that seeks to improve upon last season’s 2.2 runs per game against conference opponents.
Taking the reins in center field will likely be Chester. The sophomore redshirted last season, but started 32 games for the Tigers as a freshman in 2009, hitting .275 with a homerun and 13 RBI. She will provide a spark and a punch, whether off the bench or if she wins the starting center field job.
Marshall, last season’s starter in center, is coming off of shoulder surgery in the offseason, and her availability remains a question mark.
Right field is one of the positions that is solidified for the Tigers as McKinley is making the move from third base to right, taking her single-season record of 19 steals with her. McKinley, a 2010 C-USA All-Tournament team selection, is a career .254 hitter who was tied for second on last season’s squad with four home runs. Adding her to this outfield will allow Ijiah Hargrove to step in and play right away in the infield.
McKinley made one outfield start, in centerfield in the Memphis’ seventh game of the last season against Belmont, going 1-for-3 with two RBI in the contest.
“It’s been a good transition; I’m still working on getting the footwork down,” said McKinley. “Tracking the ball down and stuff has opened my eyes to how difficult it is to be an outfielder. I agree with Coach Thees; we can be one of the best in the country.”
What’s best for the squad is where McKinley will wind up, though; if that suggests a move back to third base, McKinley will welcome the return to her old stomping grounds.
“Whatever it takes to help the team win, that’s where I want to play,” said McKinley. Providing outfield depth will be freshman Ashleigh King, a four-time all-region selection at Cor Jesu Academy in St. Louis, Mo. King hit .379 for her career for the Chargers, including .500 her senior season.