February 15, 2019 2:52:48 PM
By Slim Smith
Even before the first pitch of the season Sunday, there is one thing Mississippi University for Women baseball coach Matt Wolfenbarger knows this year's team will have that last year's team lacked: Returning starters.
Last year was the Owls' first year for baseball and Wolfenbarger didn't know what to expect.
"Our goal last year, to be honest, was to go out and compete as hard as we could," Wolf said. "We just didn't know how the kids would react to playing college ball for the first time."
As the Owls prepare for their season-opening doubleheader against Lane College at 2 p.m. Sunday at Columbus High School, there are far fewer question marks as Wolfenbarger welcomes back the entire roster from last year, fortified by some key newcomers.
"I think we're going to be solid," Wolfenbarger said. "Some of the new kids have really come in and pushed some starters and made us better at some positions than we were a year ago."
The W added some key pieces through recruiting, including Caledonia's Logan Suggs, a transfer from Hinds CC, and R.J. Dell, a juco transfer from Tennessee.
Suggs is pegged to start one game of Sunday's doubleheader along with Drew Williams, who posted a 6-3 record last year.
Offensively, the Owls return United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA) All-American first baseman Damain Benefield, who hit .437 with 37 RBIs and seven home runs last season. Wolfenbarger also expects key contributions from pitcher/infield John David Birdsong and pitcher/outfielder David Standifer.
The biggest difference between the team that takes the field this year and last year's team, which went 21-15 and finished fifth in the USCAA World Series in Pennsylvania, is depth and versatility.
"Last year, we had one lineup we could put other there I really felt confident in," Wolfenbarger said. "This year, we can do a lot of thing with our lineup. The biggest change is our pitching. We had about five kids we could go with. This year, we should have 10. That's really going to be big."
Wolfenbarger said the effort to build a program from scratch remains a challenge. He said assistant coach Cody Allsup has been a big factor in the progress the program has made.
"We're definitely moving in the right direction," Wolfenbarger said. "Last year, I thought if we could get close to .500, that would be a good season. We exceeded that. This year, with what we have coming back and what we've added, we should be well over .500."
The W will take on Lane College in a rematch of the season-opening doubleheader in a doubleheader at 2 p.m. at Hub City Field in Jackson, Tennessee.