USF Senior Writer Tom Zebold is giving GoUSFBulls.com readers a five-part position preview heading into the week of USF's season opener at home against Marshall on Friday, Feb. 8. This week's installment features a corner infield that includes star returner Stephanie Medina at first base and clutch Kenshyra Jackson's move to third base.
By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA - Head coach Ken Eriksen is excited to have two of USF's postseason heroes back to cover the corners.
Junior Stephanie Medina will again provide the Bulls with steady defense at first base while senior Kenshyra Jackson takes over for Jessica Mouse at third base a season removed from the program's first-ever Women's College World Series run.
Medina produced the go-ahead run in the decisive third game of the USF's Super Regional series against Hofstra and had a ton of big hits throughout her sophomore campaign. The Tampa native tied for the team lead in homers (7), ranked third with 31 RBIs and fourth in batting average (.282) while starting every game at first for the second consecutive season.
"She has great hands over there and she probably saved us 14 to 15 potential errors last year just because of her hands at first base," Eriksen said. "She's probably one of the quickest first baseman we've ever had."
Eriksen noted that the best has yet to come from Medina, who has remained in great shape since the offseason started. Medina's prep work for USF's season opener Friday against Marshall has included a more consistent approach at the plate and fans should expect to see more hits to the opposite field from the talented lefty.
"We're pretty excited about the strides that she's made and the maturing process as a hitter," Eriksen said.
USF fans certainly won't forget Jackson's contributions at the plate during the Bulls' 50-12 finish last season. The former Polk State College standout batted .288 in her USF debut with a team-leading 17 extra base hits and 37 RBIs. Jackson hit the go-ahead single in USF's first win against Hofstra in the Super Regionals two games after producing the Bulls' lone run in a victory over UF in the Gainesville Regional Championship.
"This kid could be called, 'Ms. May,' " Eriksen said. "Shy is always going to be in the mix for the three, four, five spot because she's just a great, great aggressive type of hitter that loves being in the spotlight. Good things happen to good people, and that's what you can always say about Shy."
Jackson was primarily a designated player in 63 games last season and Eriksen said her move to third should be a smooth transition.
"She's going to look to fill into that everyday defensive position and Kenshyra has a rocket for an arm," Eriksen said. "She had one of the strongest arms on the team last year and she'll continue to use that this year at third."
Eriksen said Jackson's ability to learn from Mouse, a defensive specialist, has helped make the move an easy one. Mouse, an LSU transfer, was a key leader on and off the field during her lone season with USF in 2012.
"We were very fortunate that the players we have on the team this year were able to play with Jessica Mouse, to see the type of player that everybody aspires to be," Eriksen said. "Jessica made everyone better just because of the way she was aware of everything that was going on. Kenshyra Jackson, a lot of that wore off on her, which is great."
Eriksen also is excited about the Bulls backing up Jackson at third. Sophomore Nicolette Levine, an FSU transfer, will make her USF debut after playing in six games with the Seminoles and Eriksen has applauded the Lithia, Fla., native's progress this offseason.
"She's coming to get the ball more defensively," he said. "She's a position player that could see a lot of playing time at third, the designated player role and we're not afraid to use her at shortstop either."
"We're not lacking at any position right now," Eriksen said.
USF also has versatile options behind Medina at first base. Freshman Morgan Litchfield has been getting work at the position when she's not behind the plate and Eriksen said the Tampa native brings a lot of promise to the program.
"She's got some phenomenal hands over there and she's a big power hitter," he said. "She's learning the speed of the game at the corners and in the short game, and she's a very, very aggressive type of mind. Don't be surprised if you see her in the lineup because of her bat and the potential at first base."
Don't be surprised to see sophomore Meagan Leddy see some time at first as well. The Jacksonville native earned All-America status at Stanton Prep and appeared in six games last season as a pinch hitter for USF.
"You might see her more in a left-handed pinch hitting role than you've ever seen her before. She's a kid that we could also put at first base and be in a pretty good position," Eriksen said.
Watch the Bulls kick off their season 2:30 p.m. Friday against Marshall at USF softball stadium. Purchase season tickets HERE and you can also watch every USF home game online this season at GoUSFBulls.com.