HANCEVILLE – After playing a daunting non-conference schedule for nearly two months, Wallace State’s defending national championship softball team begins league play Tuesday at Gadsden State.

Wallace State softball coach Jayne Clem feels the nationally-ranked counterparts her freshman-laden Lady Lions (23-17) have encountered will make them stronger during the conference rush.

“We’re ready to get going with conference play. I feel we are headed in the right direction. Everyone has accepted their role on the team and is taking care of that. Our pitchers are getting better, and we’re ready to see how we stack up against the North Division. As always, we know we will be the hunted,” said Clem, whose team has won 8 of its last 10 games.

Wallace State softball always has a target on its back, and this season has been no different. However, unlike the last three or four years, Clem has needed the freshmen to fill as many valuable roles as possible, especially with Kori Benson and Madeline Lee serving as the only returning starters in the lineup.

“The freshmen aren’t new anymore. Going back to the summer they have been with us for nine months now. The ones that are here have bought into our system and are doing what we need them to do,” Clem said. “We can play with anyone in the country when we get our minds right. It’s just a matter of us all being on the same page.”

Wallace State wastes no time dipping into conference play next week. The Lady Lions travel to Gadsden State on Tuesday, Marion Military on Thursday, Snead State on Saturday and Shelton State on Sunday.

Freshmen Amanda Medders and Rachel Ragland have taken the reins as Wallace State’s most reliable starters, a rotation made up completely of newcomers. Medders is 9-2 with a 2.68 ERA in 24 appearances, while Ragland is 6-6 with a 3.03 ERA in 20 games.

“Rachel Ragland’s record doesn’t show how effective she’s been pitching. She’s pitched against some good teams. We haven’t backed her up on offense or defense like we should have,” Clem said. “Amanda Medders has been doing a great job of getting groundballs.”

Benson’s powerful bat was absent midway through February because of back problems, but the 2013 NJCAA national tournament defensive MVP and NFCA All-American has returned as the team’s designated player and is hitting .468 with a team-high eight homers and 30 RBIs.

Lee leads the team in average (.433) and RBIs (36) and is tied for first in doubles (11) with Sabrina Russell.

Andrea McKenzie is hitting .355 with three homers and 26 RBIs, Mackenzie Hill has a .364 average with four homers and 22 RBIs and Isabella Campbell is hitting .306 with six homers and 18 RBIs.

Wallace State’s home opener is April 8 against Motlow State beginning at 4 p.m., and the Lady Lions’ conference opener is April 10 vs. Gadsden State.

Wallace State softball, which also won a national title in 2008, has won six of the last seven state championships, including the last two.

For more information about Wallace State athletics, visit wallacestate.edu.

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Russell Moore

Staff Writer

Wallace State Community College

P.O. Box 2000, Hanceville, AL 35077

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256-339-2422 cell

Visit us online at www.wallacestate.edu