BRISTOL, Tenn. – In their second season as Conference Carolinas members, the King University took home their second conference title, winning the 2013 regular season championship. The Tornado have nearly everyone back from last year's squad, and were selected to finish second in the Conference Carolinas Preseason Coaches' Poll.
Under head coach Jenn Testa, King won the Conference Carolinas regular season title with a league mark of 17-3, a season after taking the conference tournament title. The Tornado started slow a season ago, but they closed the season on fire, winning 14 of their final 17 games, including a 10-game winning streak to finish the season with an overall record of 31-26. King's season came to an end the Conference Carolinas Tournament where they dropped a pair of narrow extra-inning games to Coker College and eventual tournament champion University of Mount Olive.
Conference Carolinas Pitcher of the Year, and second team All-Southeast Region performer Hannah Light leads the group of nine returning starters for the Tornado. The senior led Conference Carolinas with 23 wins and 236 strikeouts, which also ranked 17th in all of NCAA Division II. Her 1.95 earned run average was also good enough for third in the league. Light will be challenged in the circle by Morgan Lowe who struggled with injuries during her freshman season, making three starts in eight appearances last season.
The infield group will be led by first team all-conference selections Chrissy Melcher and Cassie Ringstaff. Melcher, a shortstop ranked second in the league with a batting average of .404 while Ringstaff led the conference with 22 stolen bases on 25 attempts. The third basemen posted a batting average of .274 with six doubles. Melcher led Conference Carolinas in four offensive categories, runs (44), hits (84), doubles (18) and total bases with 130. Her eight home runs ranked fifth and her 34 runs batted in landed her sixth. The other half of the infield should be made up of second basemen Tori McComas and possibly Amber Walker at first base. McComas hit .227 while Walker made starts both at first base and designated player last season.
Outfielders Stephanie Rodriguez and Octavia Lewis-Rand both return, but the Tornado have to replace centerfielder Aubrey Hutt. Both outfielders played solid defense a season ago, and combined for 49 hits and nine stolen bases. They could be joined by senior Fallon Thomas or sophomore Allie Spell. Thomas, a second team all-conference performer, played both outfield and catcher last year while leading King with a .987 fielding percentage. The Bristol, Va., native also ranked second on the team with six home runs while hitting .258.
Sophomore Hannah Smith should see the majority of the time at catcher this season. Smith started all 57 games last season and was second on the team with a .313 batting average. Her 36 runs batted in led the Tornado and her 10 doubles ranked second on the team. She also crushed five home runs.
King was selected to finish second in the Conference Carolinas Preseason Coaches' Poll behind last year's conferment tournament champion Mount Olive. The Tornado received one first place vote while Mount Olive received eight. Limestone College was selected third after finished tied for second with Mount Olive in the 2013 regular season standings.
King opens the 2014 campaign at the Columbus State University Cougar Classic on February 7-9 where the Tornado will face 25th-ranked Columbus State in their first game. Their home opener is slated for Wednesday, February 12 against Carson-Newman University before the Tornado open Conference Carolinas play on March 1 at Erskine College. The eight-team Conference Carolinas Tournament is scheduled for April 25-27 in Burlington, N.C.