Fresh off an undefeated season in conference play (26-0), the Jacksonville State softball team now takes aim at the conference tournament crown. TV24 Sports caught up with the team in the final practice before the tournament at Choccolocco Park in Oxford on Tuesday. The venue is a de facto home away from home for the Gamecocks. They know that everyone in the league is gunning for them so they are staying with the routine that got them to this point.
JSU faces 8th seed Murray State on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.
(Hear from Ella Denes, Whitney Gillespie and Jana McGinnis in the featured video)
Meanwhile several Gamecocks were honored at the league's postseason banquet on Tuesday night. The information is below. (Courtesy: JSU Sports Information www.jsugamecocksports.com)
The Jacksonville State softball team got a little hardware before the 2016 Ohio Valley Conference Championship began.
The Gamecocks received their 2016 OVC Regular Season Champions trophy at the annual pre-tournament banquet on Tuesday, when they also dominated the league's All-OVC honors. Jana McGinnis was named the OVC Coach of the Year, while Ella Denes was named OVC Player of the Year and Whitney Gillespie OVC Pitcher of the Year to highlight a group of eight JSU players named to the All-OVC squads.
Denes and Gillespie were two of six First Team All-OVC selections for the Gamecocks, who also placed catcher Jamie McGuire, second baseman Jordan Bullock, center fielder Emily Woodruff and designated hitter Emily Church on that first team. Pitcher Taylor West was a Second Team pick, while Church and shortstop Anna Chisolm were named to the OVC All-Newcomer Team.
McGinnis claimed her fifth OVC Coach of the Year honor in 13 years in the league, tying former Southeast Missouri coach Lana Richmond for the most by one coach in the league's history. Just days after McGinnis won her 800th game in 23 years at JSU, she stood before the league members with her team and received the ninth OVC Trophy earned by the Gamecocks. JSU's fifth regular season title has them entering this week's tournament as one of the nation's hottest teams.
JSU posted one of three unbeaten conference records in Division I softball in 2016, going 26-0 in league play to become the second team in league history to go unbeaten. Tennessee Tech went 17-0 in 1994. JSU has won 17-straight games and 28 of its last 29 and will put that hot streak on the line Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. against No. 8 seed Murray State at Oxford's new Choccolocco Park.
The Gamecocks claimed the OVC's Player, Pitcher and Coach of the Year Awards in the same season for the fourth time, joining the 2005, 2009 and 2014 teams to achieve the feat.
Denes becomes JSU's fifth OVC Player of the Year after posting some impressive numbers in her senior campaign. A 5-foot-5 native of Pisgah, Ala., she wrapped up the regular season first or second in the OVC in batting average (.393), hits (66), runs (41), doubles (17), RBI (38), total bases (109), on base percentage (.477) and slugging percentage (.649). While posting those numbers at the plate, she was also perfect in 49 chances in right field, where she started every game for JSU this season.
She feasted on OVC pitching, batting .414 with nine doubles, a triple, five homers and 21 RBI in conference play. She was named to the All-OVC team for the fourth time in four years at JSU, claiming All-Newcomer honors in 2013, First Team in 2014 and Second Team in 2015. Also a star in the classroom, Denes was named a First Tem Academic All-District honoree last week.
Gillespie has been one of the keys in JSU's turning the 2016 season around. The 5-foot-7 sophomore from Pelham, Ala., returned to the circle from an injury the week before conference play began and propelled a 9-13 JSU team to a 28-1 finish to the regular season. Her 0.95 earned run average is sixth in the nation and on pace to be the third-lowest in a season JSU history and the lowest since 1996.
Gillespie was a Second Team All-OVC and All-Newcomer pick last year and used numbers like a 14-1 record, three saves and a .153 opponents batting average to grab First Team honors in 2016 and become the fifth Gamecock to receive the OVC Pitcher of the Year award. In OVC play, she went 14-0 with three saves and a 0.85 ERA, while tossing a pair of no-hitters.
McGuire, a junior catcher from Glencoe, earns her first All-OVC mention after a breakout season in 2016. A career .275 hitter with five homers over her first two seasons with the Gamecocks, McGuire hit .324 with six doubles and seven homers in her junior campaign. She also emerged as one of the OVC's top defensive catchers, making just one error in 291 chances.
Bullock, a sophomore from Harvest, Ala., also broke out this season to land on the All-OVC Team for the first time. She hit .343 in her second season for JSU, serving as the team's primary second baseman. A team-best two triples and seven sacrifices showed her versatility, while she proved to be the toughest JSU player to strike out, fanning just eight times in 143 at bats.
Woodruff was an OVC All-Newcomer pick a year ago but thrived in the nine hole in JSU's lineup in 2016 to grab First Team All-OVC honors. Second on the team with a .369 average during the season, she hit .446 in league play, 30 points better than the next best average in conference games by any player in the league. The native of Albertville, Ala., led the team with eight stolen bases, while notching seven doubles, a triple and five homers at the plate.
Church enjoyed a productive first season at the plate for JSU after transferring from Southern Union Community College in nearby Wadley, Ala. The junior from Ragland, Ala., tied Denes for the team lead with 38 RBI and belted a team-best nine homers that ranked fourth in the OVC. Her .600 slugging percentage was third in the OVC, while she hit .312 to join seven other Gamecock regulars with averages above .300.
West, a junior from Anniston, Ala., overcame a rocky start to the 2016 campaign and was a huge part of the Gamecocks' success down the stretch. A 13-5 record and a 2.74 ERA helped nab her first career All-OVC mention, but her performance in conference play helped JSU secure the conference title. In OVC play, she went 9-0 in the circle with a 1.52 ERA, while holding opposing batters to a .212 average.
Chisolm was also another breakout performer for the Gamecocks, overcoming an offseason injury to grab a spot on the OVC's All-Newcomer Team. Starting the season rehabbing a knee, she was the team's third shortstop, but injuries opened the door and she sprinted through it. By the time her first collegiate regular season ended, she was third on the team with a .355 average, including a .379 clip in league games.
All of the Gamecocks' games in the OVC Tournament will be carried on the Gamecock Sports Network online at www.jsugamecocksports.com and on the radio on WLJS 91.9 FM. Free live video of each game will also be streamed at www.ovcdigitalnetwork.com.
2016 All-Ohio Valley Conference Softball Teams
2016 OVC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Ella Denes, Jacksonville State
2016 OVC PITCHER OF THE YEAR: Whitney Gillespie, Jacksonville State
2016 OVC FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR: Danielle Liermann, Austin Peay
2016 OVC COACH OF THE YEAR: Jana McGinnis, Jacksonville State
P - Whitney Gillespie (Jacksonville State)
P - Hayley Flynn (Eastern Kentucky)
P - Jessica Wireman (Eastern Illinois)
C - Jamie McGuire (Jacksonville State)
IF - Jordan Bullock (Jacksonville State)
IF - Danielle Liermann (Austin Peay)
IF - Shelbey Miller (Murray State)
IF - Savannah Carpenter (Southeast Missouri)
OF - Ella Denes (Jacksonville State)
OF - Emily Woodruff (Jacksonville State)
OF - Paige Murphy (Eastern Kentucky)
UTIL/DP - Emily Church (Jacksonville State)
P - Danielle Liberatore (Tennessee Tech)
P - Taylor West (Jacksonville State)
P - Mason Robinson (Murray State)
C - Robyn Leighton (Morehead State)
IF - Jessica Twaddle (Murray State)
IF - Kylie Bennett (Eastern Illinois)
IF - Rachel Minogue (Eastern Kentucky)
IF - Krislyn Campos (Eastern Kentucky)
OF - April Markowski (Eastern Illinois)
OF - Sarah Fobbs (Eastern Kentucky)
OF - Alyssa Heren (SIUE)
OF - Kayla Joyce (Eastern Kentucky)
OF - Carly Gonzales (UT Martin)
UTIL/DP - Katie Warrick (UT Martin)
Danielle Liermann (Austin Peay)
Alyssa Heren (SIUE)
Katie Warrick (UT Martin)
Emily Church (Jacksonville State)
Rachel Minogue (Eastern Kentucky)
Kacy Acree (Austin Peay)
Anna Chisolm (Jacksonville State)
Allison Rager (Morehead State)
Hannah Clark (Eastern Kentucky)
Kayla Bear (Eastern Illinois)
Hayley Baker (Belmont)
Leah Kesel (Murray State)
(Courtesy: JSU Sports Information www.jsugamecocksports.com)