For the first time, USC Upstate has been voted the Big South Conference’s preseason softball favorite by the league’s head coaches, as announced Wednesday by the conference office.
The coaches’ vote put Radford University in seventh place.
In addition, the coaches voted USC Upstate Spartans’ catcher Peyton Darnell (Fort Mill, S.C.) the league’s Preseason Player of the Year, and Presbyterian College hurler Jenna Greene (Hamlet, N.C.) as the Preseason Pitcher of the Year.
The Spartans’ previous highest preseason Big South ranking has been second every year since becoming league members in 2019. Upstate, which was the Big South co-regular-season champion in 2022 with a 21-6 league record and a 48-10 overall record, received three first-place votes and 55 total points in the poll.
Presbyterian College finished second in the voting with 52 points, receiving two first-place votes for its highest-ever preseason ranking during its time in the Big South. Two-time defending champion Campbell collected two first-place votes and was third in the preseason ranking with 48 points.
Longwood, last year’s tournament runner-up, was fourth in the voting with 45 points and received the remaining first-place vote while Charleston Southern landed in the fifth spot with 28 points, just ahead of sixth-place Winthrop (26 points).
Then came Radford in seventh place with 21 points, followed by Gardner-Webb in the eighth and final position with 13 points.
Darnell is the first Spartan to be voted Preseason Player of the Year since Alyssa Oakes in 2020. She was the 2022 Big South Player of the Year and a First-Team All-Conference honoree as well as a Southeast All-Region Third-Team selection. She started all 58 games between catcher and designated player and finished the season with 106 total bases, 62 RBI, 53 hits, 16 runs, 15 home runs, and eight doubles. She had a .385 on base percentage, a .323 batting average, and a .592 slugging percentage.
Darnell had three multi-homer performances and batted .373 with six home runs, 27 RBI, and a .693 slugging clip in 27 Big South games in 2022. She received 15 points and four first-place votes in the balloting, ahead of Radford’s Cori McMillan (12 points, four first-place votes) and Longwood’s Jaden Pone (seven points).
Greene was 17-9 with a 2.05 earned run average and 203 strikeouts in 157.0 innings for the Blue Hose last season. She held opposing batters to a .186 average, the second-lowest percentage in Presbyterian’s Division I era, started 29 contests with 15 complete games, and collected the second-most wins of any PC pitcher over a single year.
Greene struck out 104 batters in Big South play while picking up 10 league victories and blanked four separate Big South opponents with 40 K’s in those outings She recorded double-digit strikeouts nine times, conceded three hits-or-fewer on 14 different dates, and became Presbyterian’s single-season record holder in both strikeouts (203) and shutouts (9).
Greene received three first-place votes and 15 points in the voting, ahead of Campbell’s Isabella Smith (two first-place votes and 12 points), and Charleston Southern’s Annah Junge (two first-place votes and seven points).
The 2023 softball season begins Friday, Feb. 10, while the first conference weekend is scheduled for March 17-19. The 2023 Big South Softball Championship is slated for May 11-13, and the four-team double-elimination postseason tournament will be hosted by Radford University. The tournament champion receives the Big South’s automatic bid to the NCAA Championship.
–Big South Conference
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