Veterans O'Brien, Carroll Ready to Shine in the Outfield

Feb. 1, 2013

Over the next week, will breakdown the upcoming 2013 softball season with four season previews about the team. The first will be an overall preview, detailing the team’s focus heading into the season, followed by position specific previews on the pitching staff, infielders and outfielders. To read about the team’s focus heading into the season, click here. For an in-depth look at the pitching staff, click here. A look at the team’s deep infield can be found here.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – University of Kentucky softball head coach Rachel Lawson said she had “high hopes” for UK’s outfield this season when she sat down to talk to this preseason. It is hard to disagree with the sixth-year head coach.

Last season, 11 players earned playing time in the outfield totaling 225 games played. What gives Lawson and Co. excitement heading into 2013 is that seven of those 11 players return to the squad this season. In fact, those seven equaled 212 of the 225 games played.

Senior captain Alice O’Brien leads the pack, playing in 56 games last season – 49 in the outfield – with 45 starts. The savvy veteran hit .265 last season to sit fourth-best on the team along with eight doubles, one triple, one homer and 16 RBI.  Junior Ginny Carroll earned similar playing time to O’Brien last season, playing in all 60 games with 52 starts, mostly in the outfield. Carroll, who has improved offensively and defensively this offseason according to Lawson, finished tied for second on the team last season with seven homers, while also launching nine doubles. 

Junior Emily Jolly and sophomore Kara Howard bring experience to the outfield. Jolly, who played infield most of her career, played 35 games in the outfield last season, posting a strong fielding percentage and showing some pop at the plate. Howard, who played 37 games in the outfield last season, has improved offensively this season and looks to provide depth to the unit. 

“When you go into the outfield, Emily Jolly has made the switch to the outfield, and she’s certainly a tough player,” Lawson said. “She’s very strong now. She’s worked super hard in the offseason and when she hits the ball square, it really is powerful. Ginny Carroll is probably our best power hitter returning. We’ve had some team scrimmages and she’s certainly showed it in the fall and she’s showed it early that her power numbers are going to be up. Certainly, have to look at Alice O’Brien, who looks outstanding. She’s worked her tail off. She’s playing hard every day and she’s been, besides (Kara) Dill, our top hitter in all of our scrimmages and she looks awesome. I feel pretty good about our returning crew and they’ve certainly been in a lot of games. They’ve been to the postseason every single year that they’ve been on the team. I feel good about our crew who has returned and then, when you put them with such an outstanding freshman class, I’ve got high hopes for them.”

Other options for Lawson in the outfield are juniors Emily Gaines and pitcher/outfielder Ellen Weaver. Gaines played in 40 games last season with 12 starts, including earning 12 games in the outfield, while Weaver saw playing time in the outfield in 25 games. The depth of the unit has brought competition in practice to an even higher level than normal according to Lawson. Just another reason she is excited to see what this outfield crew can do in 2013.

“In the outfield, we have a lot more depth and if somebody is just not seeing the ball well, you have somebody better to put in there,” Lawson said. “Also, because of that competition, our practices, defensively, have been a lot better. People have more of an edge. They’re trying to win the spot as opposed to knowing they have the spot." 

Similar to how Kara Dill has taken the young infielders under her wing, O’Brien, who shares the team captain role with Dill and junior pitcher Lauren Cumbess, has done the same in the outfield. The Wildcats have added two speedy outfielders to the mix in true freshmen Darington Richardson and Sylver Samuel. Fellow true freshman Maisie Steed could also see playing time in the outfield for the Wildcats. According to Lawson, their development has been partly due to O’Brien’s leadership.

“It’s her senior year, team captain, she’s doing a great job,” Lawson said about O’Brien. “She’s definitely the team leader out in the outfield, even though she’s not in centerfield. She’s done a good job also with the younger players in kind of showing them the way to play the game. Really pleased with what we are getting from her right now.”

Lawson believes both Richardson and Samuel should be able to contribute immediately. Hard to argue when you look at what each player accomplished in high school.

Richardson was a star utility player for Woodward Academy in Duluth, Ga., earning the team’s Most Valuable Player honor and All-Region honors all four seasons. Richardson helped her school advance to the regional finals her senior season and was an all-around athlete being named the Best Defensive Player on her high school basketball team and MVP of the track team.

Samuel had a fantastic high school career, holding single-season school records for most hits, most runs, most stolen bases, highest batting average and highest on-base percentage. Samuel also holds career records for batting average, on-base percentage, runs scored and stolen bases. Samuel led the team to the state championship in 2012 and was a three-time AAAA All-State honoree. Last fall, Samuel was voted 2012 AAAA Coaches Association for Women’s Sports Player of the Year.

“I don’t know about Nikki Jones (former UK letterwinner), who I’ve never seen live, but other than her, I know that Sylver is faster than anyone I’ve ever had in the program,” Lawson said. “And, she’s an outstanding center fielder. She has a good arm. She runs down the ball well, tracks it well, so she’s a great player. Darington Richardson is incredibly fast as well and is a super athlete. We have a lot more speed overall.”

Overall, Lawson couldn’t be happier with how her freshmen have performed this offseason – both on the field and off. On the field, Lawson likes how the group is listening to the upperclassmen and bringing a high level of intensity in practice.

“They’re good,” Lawson said. “The thing about our freshman class is, they’re very dynamic as a whole and they love to win and they’re very competitive. They like to play the game. They don’t just go out and go through drills and try to get through practice and some of the things that a typical younger player would do. They’re really trying to think the game through and do things the right way. They run well. We’ve brought in a lot more speed. They can hit the ball, certainly, with some power.”

Off the field, the group of newcomers has impressed Lawson as well by taking care of business in the classroom.

“We have never had below a 3.2 GPA since I have been here,” Lawson said. “Now, that was a great fall because I didn’t know we would have a high GPA with all the freshmen. While dynamic individuals, they are very driven. And to be honest, they are just winners. So if they are in the classroom they want to win and if they are on the softball field they want to win. They don’t know what they want to do in life, but they know they want to do it right.” 

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