The NC State softball team is set to begin its season this weekend in Clearwater, Florida in the NFCA Leadoff Classic.
The tournament will kick off with a doubleheader Friday and games against both Minnesota and Ole Miss at 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. Saturday will be another doubleheader and the Pack will take on Kentucky at 10 a.m. and Missouri State at 12:30 p.m. before concluding the weekend with a Sunday matinee against Mississippi State at noon.
Minnesota is currently ranked No. 8 in the nation after an excellent 2019 season. Head coach Jamie Trachsel led the Gophers to the No. 7 overall seed, after posing a 20-2 Big Ten record and a 5-0 record in the Minneapolis Regional and Super Regional. This was the first trip for the Gophers to the Women’s College World Series in the NCAA era.
Led by senior third baseman Katelyn Kemmetmueller, the Gophers are known for their excellent defense. Minnesota finished 2019 with a 0.976 fielding percentage, ranked ninth in the NCAA. This will be a tough start for the Wolfpack offense to begin the 2020 season.
No. 21 Ole Miss is returning from a 41-20 2019 campaign, but it experienced a bit of change over the offseason. Back in December, the Rebels’ head coach, Mike Smith, announced his resignation, and the program announced Ruben Felix will be the interim head coach for the upcoming season.
The Rebels only lost four of their 22 players from 2019, and Kylan Becker, former center fielder, will be returning to the team as a part of the coaching staff. This weekend will be the first test for Ole Miss under its new coach but the Rebels are a strong team and will be more tough competition for the Wolfpack as it starts the weekend.
On Saturday, the Pack will face both No. 15 Kentucky and Missouri State. Kentucky will be the third ranked team NC State will face in the upcoming weekend. The Cats lost a significant part of their infield over the offseason and will be relying on their experienced pitching staff. Pitcher Grace Baalman led the team in strikeouts last season with 102, while also recording a 3.49 ERA; Autumn Humes led the team in saves with two, while posing a 15-11 record and a 4.14 ERA.
The Missouri State Bears will be returning eight position starters and their entire pitching rotation from last season. Catcher Darian Frost will also be returning to the team after missing all of 2019 due to an injury. As another solid team, this is a game the Pack can’t let up on.
The Wolfpack will close out the weekend against Mississippi State. The Bulldogs, known for their stellar offense, are highlighted by catcher/infielder Mia Davidson and senior utility player Fa Leilua. The duo recently earned preseason All-American honors after combining for 48 home runs and 116 RBIs in 2019. Davidson broke the SEC single-season home run record last year and led the Bulldogs in batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, runs scored, hits, RBIs and total bases.
This weekend will prove to be a tough start to the season for the Pack, as it will be full of tough competition and a large number of games in a short period of time.