In The Swing Of Things

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas will launch the Jamie Pinkerton softball era on Friday as the Lady Razorbacks open the 2005 season under their new coach at the Mustang Roundup in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Pinkerton is coming off four successful seasons at Tulsa, where he twice was named the Western Athletic Conference Coach of the Year.

He succeeds Carie Dever-Boaz, Arkansas' original coach in 1997 who had winning seasons from 1999-2002 before slipping to 24-36 and 18-40 the past two seasons.

The Lady'Backs struggled offensively last season, but Pinkerton plans to use their speed to take extra bases and try to manufacture runs.

"I'm well aware we hit .191 last year," Pinkerton said. "But a lot of hitting is between the ears -- trusting your God-given ability. I've seen a difference from the start of practice to now."

Last fall, Pinkerton said his players routinely swung at any 2-0 pitch in the strike zone.

"Now, they're smarter in scrimmages about taking the 1-0 or 2-0 pitch unless it's in a zone they can handle," Pinkerton said. "Also, they're not in quite the panic mode when the count is 0-1. We want to be patient and work the count."

Arkansas returns shortstop and leadoff hitter Blaire Perry, a senior who hit .268 last season and ranks third on the school career stolen bases list.

"Blaire is patient at the plate now," Pinkerton said. "She can bunt and slap."

Dayna Huckabee, a 5-foot-11 freshman power hitter from Texarkana, is slated for first base and the six-hole in the batting order for now, although she may someday settle at shortstop.

"Dayna has a lot of raw ability," Pinkerton said. "I like to have speed and power in the sixth spot. She can run, and she just hit a two-run homer in a scrimmage."

Ashley Carter (.217) of Harrison and Barbara-Jean Southmayd of Largo, Fla., are battling for the third base position. Carter could move to second base, while Southmayd fills the No. 3 or 4 spot in the batting order.

Juniors Mindy O'Malley and catcher Shana Easley started all 58 games for Arkansas last season. Sophomore Rachel Lemaster led the Lady'Backs with a .298 batting average.

"We still don't have a lot of power, but we're going to run more and take the extra base on bloops," Pinkerton said. "The other day in the Broyles Center we worked on the short game and we were going from first to third on bunts.

"If we get thrown out doing that, I'll pick 'em up, dust 'em off and say, 'Hey, we tried.'"

Pinkerton did note that freshman catcher/first baseman Samantha Buckner of Mesquite, Texas, has hit "two or three off the wall" in practice.

Arkansas' new coach can use the scouting report he drew up for the Lady'Backs while coaching Tulsa last season to work on some of their hitting weaknesses.

Heather Schlichtman, the pitcher who won the lion's share of Arkansas' games the past few years, has run out of eligibility, but Pinkerton likes returnees Valanna Lyons and Sarah Topham, plus freshmen Katy Henry of Poteau, Okla., and Kelly Ninemire of Prosper, Texas.

Linzee Roby, another hurler, who transferred from Cowley (Kan.) College, has been injured.

"Lyons and Topham are a little ahead, even though Valanna only pitched 10 innings last year," Pinkerton said. "Those two pitchers like to come at you. I don't know if I want to roll Katy out there for the first game, but I might. Our confidence is pretty high right now."

Arkansas opens against Sacramento State (32-28 last season) at 11 a.m. Friday, then meets Nevada (38-28) at 4 p.m. The Lady'Backs play formidable Colorado State (40-14) twice in the three-day event, and meet the host, Cal Poly (22-28), at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in the feature game.

Sacramento State finished third in its conference last season and is picked second this year. Sac State returns three of its top four hitters, plus pitcher Brianne Ferguson, a transfer who was 16-11 for San Jose State.

"Ferguson is a finesse pitcher, so we've been working against Henry, who has a good rise ball and a good drop," Pinkerton said.

Nevada, third in the WAC last year, is coached by Michelle Gardner, who Pinkerton said should have been the WAC Coach of the Year.

"I was honored to get that," he said.

Cal Poly has a new coach, Jerry Condon, who comes from Oregon State and inherits the top two hitters from last season plus a Freshman of the Year pitcher.

"Colorado State was the Mountain West champion," Pinkerton said. "They hit 58 home runs last year and return six of their top seven hitters, plus two of their top three pitchers."

Arkansas has never played Nevada or Colorado State.

The Lady'Backs open at home with their own invitational tournament on Feb. 26-27, against Missouri-Kansas City and Louisiana-Monroe.

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