Following a fall shakedown cruise, Rogers State softball coach Dawn Reed is ready to set sail in the spring with a roster that will include a mixture of promising youth and proven experience.

The Hillcats finished their brief fall schedule with a 7-5-1 record, going 2-0 against NAIA competition.

“We definitely had our highlights,” Reed said this week. “We played at a high level at times, but my expectation is that we play at that high level at all times.”

Reed and the Hillcats posted a 29-17 record last spring in their inaugural season at the collegiate level.

Perhaps the lack of consistency this fall can be attributed to the fact that the Hillcats are so young and many of the players are in their first year at RSU.

The roster features six returning players and nine newcomers. Nine Hillcats are listed as freshmen or sophomores on the roster, compared to just four seniors.

“We have a solid core of returning players and we’ve added a lot of talent with our newcomers,” Reed said.

Several new faces have made an immediate impact on the program. Freshman Taylor Whisenhunt (Collinsville) hit .416 for the Hillcats during the fall and homered against Oklahoma State.

Reed expects Whisenhunt to be a big contributor in the lineup in the spring.

Reed also said freshman shortstop Sydni Jones (Enid) has the potential to be an All-American.

“She’s a phenomenal all-around athlete and she’s one of the hardest-working kids I’ve ever coached,” Reed said.

Two freshmen pitchers could have the opportunity to make an even bigger impact for the Hillcats. Kelli Dunagan (Collinsville) and Stephanie Eggers (Pawhuska) will share the pitching duties for Reed.

“Kelli and Stephanie really compliment each other’s styles,” Reed said. “Kelli is a power pitcher and Stephanie is more of a finesse pitcher which is going to be very effective for us. Our pitching staff will be the strongest facet of our ball club and one of the most dominant pitching staffs in our region.”

The team makeup has Reed eagerly anticipating the arrival of spring.

“I think this teams’ expectations are to compete in the postseason,” she said. “We started talking about postseason on day one. We’re young, but I believe we have the talent. We matched up very well against all the teams we played this fall.”

The Hillcats opened the fall at home with a four-team festival at the new RSU softball complex. RSU defeated Oklahoma Wesleyan 4-0, beat Poteau Albert 6-3, and played Crowder College to a 0-0 tie.

The competition level was taken up a notch the following weekend as the Hillcats traveled to Emporia (Kan.) State for a festival. RSU drilled NAIA opponent McPherson College, 8-0, but dropped games to Washburn and Emporia State, two highly regarded NCAA Division II programs.

The Hillcats participated in the University of Tulsa Fall Festival, going against Division I-A competition for the first time. RSU scored a run in the top of the seventh inning and held on to complete a 1-0 victory over the Golden Hurricane. The Hillcats also edged Seminole State ,1-0, and were crowned champions of the 2006 TU Fall Festival.

“Beating TU established some confidence in our team that we were lacking because we’re so young,” Reed said. “It showed our players that they are capable of beating anybody they step on the field with.”

RSU traveled to the University of Arkansas for another four-team festival. After defeating Oklahoma Baptist, 2-1, and Poteau Albert, 8-3, the Hillcats lost to Arkansas, 2-0.

Reed said her team played solidly against the Lady Razorbacks but didn’t make the adjustments against a higher level of pitching until late in the game.

The Hillcats completed their fall schedule by dropping a pair of six-inning contests to Oklahoma State in Stillwater.

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