Winthrop University

Softball team travels early and often to start season

So far this season, Winthrop's softball team has been living out of a suitcase, with games in Palm Springs, Calif., Spartanburg and Salem, Va.

Today, the Eagles will make a brief stop at the Terry Softball Complex, where they'll host Gardner-Webb (5-7). The doubleheader starts at 2 p.m.

"We're very excited to be back home and playing," coach Mark Cooke said. "It's hard to get teams in here for a one-day doubleheader because of the weather and the fact it's easier to go to a tournament where you're going to get five or six games.

"Fortunately, we were able to get something done with Gardner-Webb."

The Eagles bring a 6-5 record into today's play.

"A year ago this time, we were 4-7 and scratching our heads because we didn't know exactly what we had," Cooke said.

What Cooke had was something that would go on to a 50-18 record, the Big South Conference championship and a trip to the NCAA Regionals.

Winthrop opened the season on Feb. 8 in the Cathedral City Kickoff in Palm Springs, going 2-3 that included a victory over No. 18 Oregon State.

The Eagles had a brief layover before boarding the bus for a trip to Greenville on Feb. 13, but halfway down I-85, Furman officials contacted Cooke, telling him the field was too wet to play.

Next it was a trip to Spartanburg, where Cooke and the Eagles helped USC Upstate open its new softball facility, winning 10-4 and losing 4-3.

Winthrop just returned from the Hokie Memorial, where the Eagles defeated Rutgers, St. Joseph's and Troy before falling to No. 22 Virginia Tech.

"We had an excellent weekend," Cooke said. "We were the only team to go unbeaten in pool play."

Then the Eagles ran into Virginia Tech's Angela Tincher, one of the nation's premier pitchers. But facing a team's No. 1 is nothing knew for the Eagles.

"We're getting everybody's best and really that's what you want," Cooke said. "We're seeing everyone's 'A' game."

Sophomore Pearl Coleshill is hitting .406 while seniors Tessa Thomas and preseason Big South player of the year Lisa Kingsmore are at .372 and .343. Senior Sarah Magee is the only other .300 hitter so far.

Coleshill has made a pair of transitions for a year ago.

"Last year, she was playing shortstop, but we've moved her to third base and she's made some excellent plays," Cooke said.

But that's not the biggest switch the native of Soutffville, Ontario, has made.

"Last year, she was a right-handed hitter," Cooke said, "but she worked with the Canadian Junior National team over the summer and is now a left-handed slapper."

The Eagles are back on the road this weekend, traveling to Columbus, Ga., for the Lead-Off Classic.

"We're very excited to get an invitation," Cooke said. "We're playing Illinois State, Auburn, DePaul, Michigan and Tennessee Tech.

"DePaul and Michigan have made it to the World Series and Auburn is an SEC power. Tennessee Tech played Tennessee in the regional finals last year, so we'll have our work cut out for us."

There is a small light at the end of the tunnel. The Eagles will be back at the Terry Complex for a doubleheader with Charlotte on March 5.

• MAKING SOME NOISE: Based on recent times, distances and heights, track coach Ben Paxton said he sees several Eagles challenging for all-conference indoor track and field honors.

Winthrop's best hope for a top spot is hurdler Kandrick Cooper, who will be making his season debut in the BSC meet at Clemson this weekend.

Cooper has been sidelined with a hamstring problem, but Paxton said the senior hurdler, who holds the conference record in the 60-meter hurdles in a time of 7.83 seconds, should be ready.

Paxton said he expects weightman Travis Coleman, high jumper Jason Williams and distance runner Matt Elliott to have excellent meets.

On the women's side, Paxton is looking for Ashley Howard and Felicia Boulware to be very competitive in the throws.

• STILL KICKING: John Gilkerson's dream of playing in Major League Soccer took another positive turn recently when the New York Red Bulls and the former Winthrop defender began talking about a contract.

"It's my understanding that they want to sign him, then loan him out to Richmond of the United Soccer League," soccer coach Rich Posipanko said. "That would be like going down to the Triple-A club to get more playing time. I know he's very excited."

Gilkerson, a two-time All-Big South first-team selection, was a third-round pick in the MLS supplemental draft.

• HONORED: Winthrop's Megan Evans was tabbed New Balance Pitcher of the Week by the Big South.

Evans, a sophomore lefty from Brooklin, Ontario, posted a 1-0 record and 14 strikeouts in two wins last week. She started her week on Feb. 23 with five strikeouts in 5 2-3 innings against Rutgers. She scattered four hits against the Scarlet Knights and allowed just one earned run.

The next day against Troy, Evans tossed seven innings and fanned nine. For the week, she allowed seven hits and three earned runs to finish with a 2.13 ERA. The honor marks her second pitcher of the week nod this season.

• TIME CHANGE: Thursday's baseball game between No. 4 North Carolina and Winthrop has been moved to 4 p.m. due to expected cold conditions. The game was originally scheduled for 5 p.m.

The Coca-Cola Classic opener between St. John's and Kent State has also been moved ahead one hour. It will start at 12:30 p.m.

The remainder of the schedule remains unchanged.