MORRISTOWN, TN – Larry Sauceman returns 11 players from last season’s TCCAA Runner-Up team as the Lady Senators open up the 2023 season on Friday.
Sauceman is excited for the season ahead and the team he brings in.
“I just like this group,” Sauceman said. “There’s some old ones there. The shortstop, the third baseman, the first baseman, the second baseman, the right fielder and three pitchers. That makes it good. They’ve been there and done it. It’s a fun group. What they did this fall, it was pretty good and showed we could do some things in the spring.”
The biggest returner for the Lady Senators in the field is Kasey Bennett. Bennett hit .389 last season with 21 home runs and 75 RBI. She was named to the All-TCCAA First team.
This will be Bennett’s third year in the program as she will start once again at shortstop.
“She’s just focused and real disciplined,” Sauceman said. “She just plays ball. She has a lot of power and can run a little bit. She’s just a good player to have on your side.”
Other All-Conference members returning in the field for the Lady Senators include Ava Brooks and Brianna Beech. Brooks hit .429 for the season with eight home runs and 43 RBIs while Beech hit .368 with 15 homers and 60 RBIs.
Beech will start at first while Brooks will start at second.
Other returners for Sauceman in the field include Halle Laramie and Sarah King. Laramie hit .341 last year with nine homers and 42 RBI while King, a Morristown native, hit .348 and had a .412 OBP.
Behind the plate, Ashlyn Gaines and Olivia Harris, who can play multiple spots for the Lady Senators, return. Gaines hit .315 in 24 games last season while Harris hit .426 and drove in 24 runs.
“Having all these returners around is everything,” Sauceman said. “Just having the leadership that they have, and they know what to do and how to do it. Hopefully it’ll come together and catch on fire and have a great season.”
In terms of new players in the field, Sauceman mentioned Abigail Taylor and Kailey Dixon in the outfield as well as Jules Johnson behind the plate. Sauceman specifically mentioned Johnson and the impact she can bring to the team as a true freshman.
“In the fall, she just shut the running game down,” Sauceman said. “She threw everyone out. She just brings a lot of energy back there behind the plate, which is the position that you really need that at.”
In the circle, Walters State returns three pitchers from last year and brings in a talented freshman from Washburn. The returners include Ashley Milligan, Adrienne Morrison and Abigayle Holt while Tori Coffman joined the team this season.
Milligan was unstoppable in the circle for the Lady Senators last season as she finished the year 21-2 with a 2.21 ERA. Milligan struck out 157 batters and threw a no-hitter to clinch Walters State’s ticket to the TCCAA Championship game.
Along with Milligan, Morrison and Holt both pitched significant innings in 2022. Morrison was 7-2 with a 4.29 ERA while Holt was 8-5 with a 4.38 ERA.
“Milligan is coming off winning 20 games last year and should be huge for us again this year,” Sauceman said. “Morrison was banged up last year but can throw really well when she’s healthy. And Holt showed flashes in the fall, as well.”
Coffman is the lone newcomer in the circle but has already caught the eye of Sauceman, who thinks that she could have a very successful season.
In terms of the schedule, Walters State has no easy games. After opening the season up in the Snead State Classic, the Lady Senators will then host Snead State before traveling to Georgia Highlands and Spartanburg Methodist. Following a trip down to Oxford, Alabama to face four more teams, conference play begins in March. Sauceman expects the conference to once again be strong.
“The conference is going to be tough this year,” Sauceman said. “Chatt is going to be able to play, as well as Vol and Dyersburg. I know that. There’s some teams that can be really good. We’ve got a lot of tough ones on the road, too. So, it’s going to be a challenge for us.”
The goal is the same as always for Sauceman, as he looks to get his team back to the NJCAA National Tournament for the first time since 2018.
“That’s what we want,” Sauceman said. “We just have to do what we’re supposed to do. It won’t be easy. Everybody wants to go. You just keep your fingers crossed and hope things fall into place and stay healthy and just have fun. But I like the team. They’re fun to be around. They show up and go hard.”
The Lady Senators will face Calhoun Community College on Friday at 1:30 p.m. before playing Snead State at 4 p.m. On Saturday, Walters State will play Southern Union State at 11 a.m. and Marion Military Institute at 4 p.m.