After losing seven seniors to graduation, the RiverHawks softball team will rely on a mix of senior leadership and underclassmen role players when they take the field Friday at the Arkansas Tech Invitational.

“We have quite a few new faces trying to learn new roles,” said NSU softball coach Dee Gerlach. “We had a good fall. I think we kind of figured out where people are going to be playing.”

The team’s primary goal will be to win the Lone Star Conference North Division. The RiverHawks were picked to finish fifth in the preseason poll behind Southeastern Oklahoma, Central Oklahoma, Midwestern State, and Cameron.

NSU had a record of just 5-11 against the four teams last season.

“I expect to win the North, but that’s a tall order,” said Gerlach. “We’ve got the talent to win the North. Until we start playing I’m not sure.”

For the team to have success this season, the five seniors on the roster will have to have productive seasons.

Pitcher Lacee Craig will be counted on to anchor the pitching staff. Craig went 14-9 last season and led the team in several categories, including earned run average (2.65) and innings pitched (148).

“We’re going to look for her to carry a lot of innings,” said Gerlach.

Catcher Erica Holly is another player who will be counted on for big production. Holly was solid behind the plate last season with a .969 fielding percentage. At the plate, she hit .242 with a home run and 16 RBI’s.

“I look for her to step up and hit the ball well,” said Gerlach.

Melissa Simms will switch back to her natural position of third base this season after playing second for much of last year.

Simms hit .290 with two home runs and 16 RBI’s.

“She’s a team leader,” said Gerlach. “I expect her to her to keep everything going.”

Infielder Shaelyn Moore and pitcher Amy Derichsweiler are the other two seniors. Moore hit .344 last year with three home runs and 22 RBI’s. Derichsweiler appeared in 11 games last season and had a 4.47 ERA.

Junior college transfer Ashley Rogers figures to settle into the spot at second base.

“She’s going to step up and play second for us this year,” said Gerlach. “She missed a lot of the fall because she was sick.”

Though Rogers may not have gotten much time on the field, her dedication is not questioned.

“She’s the hardest worker, no doubt,” said Gerlach.

Central Arkansas transfer Jenny Collins also figures to be in the mix for extensive playing time. The sophomore from Jenks could see time at pitcher or in the outfield.

“She will come in and throw and she can also play outfield so she’s pretty versatile,” said Gerlach.

The six freshmen on the team will also be counted on to fit into their roles on the team.

Included in the talented group is Tahlequah’s Shelbi Bowen.

“She’s an athletic kid,” said Gerlach. “She’s doing a good job.”

Much of the success of the team will hinge on how well the freshmen adapt.

“They all come from high schools where they are used to having to do a lot more,” said Gerlach.

The RiverHawks travel to Russellville, Arkansas this weekend for the Arkansas Tech Invitational before returning home Wednesday for a double header against Missouri Southern.

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