Softball set for 2012 at Lobo Classic

National Anthem (Athletic Communications)
National Anthem (Athletic Communications)

Bryant softball kicks off 2012 season at Lobo Classic

GameTracker Links: Friday vs. Northern Colorado (4 p.m. ET) | Friday vs. New Mexico (9 p.m. ET) | Saturday vs. Purdue (12 p.m. ET)Saturday vs. Central Arkansas (4 p.m. ET) |
Sunday vs. Northern Colorado (11 a.m. ET)

WATCH: All Access (vs. New Mexico Only - Friday 9 p.m. ET)

SMITHFIELD, R.I. - The Bryant University softball team has plenty of firsts coming its way this weekend as the Bulldogs head to the University of New Mexico for the three-day Lobo Classic to kick off a promising 2012 season.

This is the team's first appearance in the tournament and the first meeting between the Bulldogs and all four of their weekend opponents. Bryant will face opponents representing four different conferences and will take on Northern Colorado of the Pacific Coast Softball Conference in its season debut Friday (4 p.m. ET). The contest is the first of two opening day games, and the Bulldogs will match up against the host University of New Mexico (Mountain West) in a 9 p.m. (Eastern) nightcap.

Bryant will return to action Saturday against Purdue University of the Big Ten (12 p.m. ET) and will tackle Central Arkansas of the Southland Conference at 4 p.m. (Eastern) before wrapping up the Lobo Classic Sunday with an 11 a.m. (Eastern) rematch against Northern Colorado.

The Bulldogs are coming off their best Division I season to date, finishing tied for second in the Northeast Conference regular season standings with a 25-19 overall record in 2011. The team will look to build on that success this spring, and their performance on the field last season has garnered the respect of every other team in the conference indicative of their fourth-place spot in the NEC preseason coaches' poll.

One obstacle the Bulldogs must overcome, though, is the loss of starting pitcher Samantha Houseal. Houseal started 24 games last season with 15 complete efforts, hurling 146 of Bryant's 288.1 total innings. But the pain of Houseal's departure is soothed by the presence of junior Brittany Hart(North Andover, Mass.). Hart pitched in a total of 23 games last season, starting 13 and throwing eight complete games for a total of 92.1 innings on the year. Hart leads a rank of three in the bullpen, where classmate Jennifer Jacob (Deer Park, N.Y.) and newcomer sophomore Courtney Coelho (Lakeville, Mass.) will also be expected to contribute significantly from the hill.

The team will be led on the field by a trio of solid seniors in second baseman Laura Bowen(Hudson, Mass.) and outfielders Lauren McCart (Voorhees, N.J.) and Lindsay Martin(Methuen, Mass.). Martin and Bowen were the only two Bulldogs to start all 44 games a season ago while McCart saw action in 42.

Offensively, the trio is among the Bulldogs' top threats, as Bowen paced the team home runs (8) and walks (24) in a team-high 122 at bats. But it is the return of sophomore shortstop Aubrey Mable(Aurora, Colo.) on which the Black and Gold offense truly hinges. The all-NEC and NFCA All-Northeast Region Second Teamer led the 2011 Bulldogs in nearly every offensive category, including slugging percentage (.718), batting average (.419), hits (49), doubles (14), RBI (30), runs (36) and on-base percentage (.514). Mable drew an impressive 21 walks to just eight strikeouts in 117 at bats and made just 12 errors for a .927 fielding percentage in 40 appearances.

Lauren Guy (La Habra, Calif.) and Kendall Corder (Carmichael, Calif.) also look to make impacts again in their second season after playing significant role as rookies. Corder, a second team all-conference catcher, posted 36 hits and scored 25 runs with 25 RBIs while Guy led the team on the bases with 11 steals in 12 attempts.

Junior outfielder Kate Murray (Fitchburg, Mass.) also received NEC Second Team honors in 2011 after a season hitting .364 with a quartet of doubles, posting a .938 fielding percentage as well.

First up for Bryant will be a Friday afternoon tilt against Northern Colordao. The Golden Bears (5-1) recently went 4-1 at the Lion Classic in Hammond, La. Junior Lindsay Smith has paced the offense in the early goings of the season with team highs in batting average (.500), slugging percentage (.813), and RBI (7).  In the circle, Megan Wilkinson has gone 3-0 and boasts a 1.40 ERA so far, while freshman Mikayla Duffy is 1-1 with a 4.66 ERA. 

Fresh off a 5-0 appearance in the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz., the tournament-host Lobos opened the season with an impressive 7-6 come-from-behind victory over preseason No. 11/16 Oregon and picked up two other one-run wins in one of the more highly regarded early season tournaments in the country.

Jessica Garcia already has three home runs and has plated 11 while boasting a slugging percentage of 1.176, all team bests.  Kaela DeBroeck earned three starts and saw action in four games last weekend and was solid in the circle, finishing the tournament with 24.1 innings pitched while posting an ERA of 4.89.

The only other team in the tournament to not see any action yet besides Bryant, Big Ten foe Purdue is coming off a 30-18-2 season in 2011. The Boilermakers return 12 letterwinners from last year, and sophomore outfielder Andie Varsho is coming off a solid rookie campaign in which she hit .426, stole 34 bases and totaled 30 RBI. Katie Hackney will look to shoulder the pitching load for Purdue after tossing just 35.2 innings last year to compliment a 1.37 ERA. 

Entering the weekend 4-1, the Bulldogs will tackle Central Arkansas in their second game on Saturday afternoon. The Sugar Bears went 3-1 last weekend en route to a championship at the Southern Miss Coca Cola Classic. Central's' lineup boasts four preseason Southland all-conference players in catcher Melanie Bryant, utility player Kasey Britt, designated player Katie McGregor and outfielder Nicole Beals.

In the circle, Cami Newsome and Kelsie Armstrong have seen equal action with ERAs of 1.75 and 1.05, respectively. The former has gone undefeated on the season with a 3-0 record, while the latter is off to a 1-1 start. 

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