Troy Softball gears up for year two under Eric Newell

Published 11:16 am Thursday, February 8, 2024

The Eric Newell era of Troy Softball is getting set to enter year two this weekend and the Trojans are excited for what’s to come.

Troy is coming off a 2023 season that saw the Trojans go 33-19-1 in Newell’s first year at the helm but also saw an early exit from the Sun Belt Tournament. The Trojans enter 2024 with some key returners but also some fresh new faces that will standout to Troy fans.

Leading the way for Troy this season will be second baseman Taylor McKinney, who comes into 2024 with Preseason All-Sun Belt honors and ranked as the No. 10 second baseman in the entire country by D1Softball. McKinney boasted a .349 batting average with a .691 slugging percentage last season, totaling eight doubles, four triples and 12 home runs with 51 RBIs and 41 runs. She also stole10 bases and held a .961 fielding percentage with 105 putouts and 41 assists on defense.

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“Taylor McKinney is the real deal,” Newell said. “She can hit for power and can swipe bases. We moved her last year from the outfield to the infield because she had a little bit of a background playing in the infield.

“She did that a good bit last year and there were some growing defensively but we’ve seen progression from her and growing there. She’s been a lead by example kid but recently she’s started to speak up and when Taylor McKinney speaks up people listen. It’s neat to see her develop her on the field talent but also her leadership skills, as well.”

Another leader on the 2024 team will be senior outfielder Anslee Finch from Geneva. Last season she held a .327 batting average with 10 doubles, two triples, eight homers, 24 runs and 38 RBI. On defense, she also held a .959 fielding percentage with 44 putouts and three assists.

“If you can pick a player that just represents Troy Softball in a positive way (Finch) is definitely one of those,” Newell said. “She had a breakout year offensively last year and we’re moving her from right to left field on defense. I’m excited about her leadership and the type of player she is on and off the field.”

A position that will look much different this season is pitcher where one of the best to ever do it – Leanna Johnson – will no longer be in the circle.

“We have six pitchers right now,” Newell continued. “Libby Baker is one that has been in the program for several years and it’s time for her to step up and sort of get out of Leanna’s shadow so to speak. Haley Pittman is a senior from Montgomery and we’ll lean on her harder this year. Olivia Cato pitched for us last year and Cate Peters is a transfer from Lipscomb that will lean on.

“We also have two freshmen that we’re excited about in Alyssa Faircloth and Savannah Money from Ashford. I think a lot is to be determined there. We’ll see who elevates their game and gets the job done when they’re called on.”

Faircloth is the reigning Class 7A Pitcher of the Year from Tuscaloosa County where she compiled a 0.92 ERA with 402 strikeouts in 182 innings last season. Money earned All-State honors last season and broke her school’s record for career strikeouts with 280. As a senior, she held a 1.22 ERA but was also a weapon on offense with 11 homers, 35 RBIs and a .425 batting average.

Troy’s freshman class features a number of standouts including Becca Leigh Chadwick, Makaley Boswell from Geneva, Taylor Danford from Enterprise, Jillian Williams, Rebekah Johnson and Mia Tidmore.

While there will be new faces in the circle, a familiar face in Johnson has joined the coaching staff as pitching coach.

“She’s been amazing to work with and I’ve got to work with her a lot this season,” Baker said of Johnson. “I feel like my velocity has come up a lot because of her and I feel more consistent now. She’s just really helped me understand what she learned from her experience here at Troy.”

Finch said that Johnson not only helps the Troy pitchers but also the Troy hitters.

“We still take live batting practice off Leanna, which has been awesome,” Finch emphasized. “She is such an asset on our staff. She works really well with the pitchers but also the hitters. She can throw us so many different pitches and she’s one of the most elite pitchers, if not the most elite pitcher, that’s ever been at Troy.”

Catcher is another position where new faces will be seen and Newell said it’s a three-way race currently.

“We have 3A Player of the Year Mia Tidwell, who put up some huge numbers at Plainview High School and Sara Beth Brake is a (junior college) transfer that has really impressed us here in January and February,” Newell said. “We really challenged her during the Christmas break and she has bought into (hitting coach) Anna Shellnut and her coaching. Emma Faulk is also a local product from Enterprise that’s in the hunt there. It’s nice to have choices behind the dish.”

Another returner the Trojans will lean on is outfielder Jade Sinness, a two-time All-Sun Belt selection. Last season she held a .288 batting average with eight doubles and three homers.

Newell said that he’s already seen improvement from his team before the season even starts.

“We seem to be a tick better offensively and a tick better defensively,” said Newell. “Pitching wise, the elephant in the room is losing Leanna Johnson and that will be sort of day-by-day for us. We aren’t concerned but that’s an area we want to improve on. I’ve been excited to see the buy in year two and getting a little bit better in year two.”

Troy opens the season this Friday, Feb. 9, with the Trojan Invitational. The Trojans will host UT-Martin and North Alabama on Friday at 3 and 6 p.m. before playing UT Martin and Samford at 3 and 6 p.m. on Feb. 10 before closing the weekend on Feb. 11 against North Alabama on Feb. 11 against North Alabama at 11 a.m. and Samford at 2 p.m.

Troy follows up with a home game against Alabama State on Feb. 14 at 4 p.m. and then hosts the Trojan Classic next week. Troy hosts Florida A&M at 5 p.m. on Feb. 15 and then both Gardner-Webb and Indiana on Feb. 16 at 2 and 5 p.m. Troy plays Florida A&M and Indiana on Feb. 17 at 3 and 6 p.m. and closes the weekend on Feb. 18 against Gardner-Webb at 1 p.m.