ECU lands at No. 8 in GAC softball poll

Jan. 13—The Great American Conference announced its 2024 Softball Preseason Coaches' Poll on Tuesday and East Central University was picked to finish eighth as voted by the league's 12 head coaches.

The Tigers received 50 total points to claim the eighth slot. Entering the season as the preseason favorites is Oklahoma Baptist who collected 117 points and eight of the twelve first-place votes.

"We had an outstanding Fall season," said ECU head coach Destini Anderson. "We know we still have a lot of work to do, but they are ready and willing to do whatever it takes. This is a special group."

ECU is coming off a 21-27 overall record where they finished 14-19 in conference play to clinch the No. 7 seed at the GAC Championship tournament. The Tigers' postseason run came to an end when they were eliminated by No. 2 Harding University in the quarterfinals.

Returning for the 2024 season is a significant core of the team's starting lineup, featuring sophomore shortstop Elyse LeClair, fifth-year third baseman Megan Lesko, and senior pitchers Taryn O'Brien, Taylor Spence, and Lauren HerrNeckar.

LeClair and Lesko played pivotal roles in pacing ECU's offense last season, each maintaining a batting average over .315 while starting in all 48 games.

LeClair stood out as a leadoff hitter her freshman year, boasting a .338 average with 53 hits, 26 runs, 10 doubles, two triples, and 21 RBIs while Lesko, who has been one of the team's leading RBI producers throughout most of her career, hit .317 with 46 hits, 27 runs, 11 doubles, one triple, five homeruns, and 32 RBIs. Lesko is the only active All-GAC Honorable Mention returner for the Tigers, with Gabi Quintanilla also receiving Honorable Mention but currently sidelined due to injury.

O'Brien, Spence, and HerrNeckar are set to lead the pitching rotation following a strong junior campaign.

O'Brien led the Tigers with seven wins and 47 strikeouts in 96.1 innings, recording six complete games. Spence followed closely with six wins, 41 strikeouts in 73.0 innings pitched, and four complete games. HerrNeckar concluded last season with three wins and 26 strikeouts in 20 appearances. Notably, O'Brien and HerrNeckar were honored as GAC Distinguished Scholars in 2023 while Spence earned the title of GAC Elite Scholar Athlete.

Entering her 17th season at the helm, Anderson is joined by assistant coach Amber Good, along with graduate assistant coaches Tyler Trott and JayCee Kievit, all making their debut season at ECU.

Good brings over 20 years of coaching experience, including an 18-season stint as head coach at Southwestern College. Trott and Kievit, recent graduates from the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, contribute their expertise as former student-athletes.

The ECU softball team will open the 2024 season on Friday, Feb. 2, with a three-game series against Newman University.