Wildcats softball looks to defend MEAC title

Wildcats
PHOTOS COURTESY OF B-CU ATHLETICS
Jackie Smith cheers her team on as Brianna Paysinger forces an out at second base.

BY ANDREAS BUTLER
DAYTONA TIMES

Fresh off a series sweep of Savannah State to open Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), play, the Bethune-Cookman University Wildcats are where they want to be.

The Wildcats took down the Tigers 7-0, 8-4, and 7-5 from March 22-24.

“We play in a tough conference with the toughest teams in our division and on our schedule. We play tough competition to prepare us for conference (play). We came in confident and played that way.

“Any MEAC series on the road is tough. We took it one game at a time and were able to keep the moment. Teams play us tough with our history and us winning the MEAC last year,” said Head Coach Laura Watten.

Championship legacy

Bethune-Cookman (11-22, 3-0) is the defending MEAC champions. B-CU has won 9 MEAC tournament titles dating back to 2000.

Watten led the program to all but three (2010-2012) MEAC titles. She returned to the program in 2015. She coached at Maryland (2006-2014) and Bethune-Cookman (1998-2005) previously. She also led B-CU to seven NCAA Regionals and one Super Regional, and Maryland to three NCAA Regionals.

The Wildcats have a long road and plenty to do in order to win the MEAC again.

Watten explained, “The season is a marathon, not a sprint. We must stay focused and be our best, one pitch at a time. We must trust the process of how the game evolves, one pitch to another. We must play every team at a high competitive level.”

The Wildcats have played some tough competition this season. They played in some of the nation’s top tournaments, including the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic Feb 21-23.

‘Compete with anybody’

Said Watten: “We learned that we have the potential to play and compete at a high level. When this team leans in and buys into the game plan, we can compete with anybody. Once we commit to the process, we succeed.”

The Wildcats beat Oregon 5-3 in that tournament on Feb. 21. Oregon was ranked No. 17 in the country at the time.

“Oregon is still a top program, not top two or three like they used to be. They lost a lot of key players, but they’re still top 25. We were able to play them well in a tough environment like the Mary Nutter Classic, which is as close as you get to a College World Series-type atmosphere. Just the energy and environment is a challenge to play in,” Watten asserted.

Offense needs improvement

Pitching and defense fuels BCU’s success, while the offense still needs work.

“Our pitching staff has kept us in games by keeping runs down. We have also played good defense behind them,” said Watten.

She further stated, “The challenge has been getting our offensive production going. We are waiting for our hitting to take a turn; they did this past weekend. We do face some of the top pitching in the country. We have some speed. We need to get them on base for our big hitters. We still have to balance the game.”

Alexis Bermudez throws a pitch during a recent game.

Strong pitching

Sophomore Alexis Bermudez (5-14, 4.67 ERA, 94 SO, 111.1 IP, 1 save) and junior Destiny Enriquez (5-5, 4.22 ERA, 74.2 IP, 2 saves) are the Wildcats’ pitching leaders.

“They have kept us in games and provided us with some leadership,” noted Watten.

Junior utility person Jacki Smith (.314 BA, 32H, 12R, 12SB) is also a key player.

“She is a stable on defense and has done well offensively the past two years. She is coming around on offense now,” added Watten.

Kaiya Epps Lee runs the bases during a game at a tournament at Florida Atlantic University earlier this year.

Others contribute

Sophomore catcher Kayla Traylor (.100 FLD); junior utility player Sasha Killings (.242 BA, 3 HR, 10 RBI) and junior outfielder Kaiya Epps Lee (.287 BA, 27H, 1HR, 16 RBI) are also major contributors.

“Kayla is a staple behind the plate and Sasha has done well. She had a breakout series offensively against Savannah State,” Watten stated.

Freshman outfielders Quianah Mitchell (14H, 4SB) and Brianna Paysinger (17H, 12RBI, 4SB) have stepped in and made a difference.

“We have three freshman that have come and in and become key role players for us. Kiki is a hard worker. Bre’s batting average doesn’t show what she does for us,” added Watten.

B-CU will also need talented players like senior infielder Brianna Sanders (1HR, 5RBI, 10R, 5SB) and senior outfielder Cheyenne Jacobs (21H, 14R, 5SB) to step up.

Home games

Along the Wildcats 2019 journey, you can catch home games at Sunnyland Park which are free to the public.

Watten noted, “When you watch us play, you see a hardworking and dedicated team that plays with a lot of energy. We play at a fast pace. It’s a fun game to watch. This is a fun team to watch. You will see a strong show of unity, connection and energy.”

To keep up with the Bethune-Cookman University Wildcats softball team, go to www.bcuathletics.com.

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