VIDEO: Abby Fiessinger interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. - The following is the second part in a three-part series chronicling Carson-Newman's softball's positions for 2018. Third baseman Abby Fiessinger (Benton, Ky.) breaks down a loaded, and deep infield.
A year ago, Carson-Newman's infield was mired in uncertainty outside of starting shortstop Kristen Toppel (Roanoke, Va.). However, freshman Taylor Scott (Huntington, W.Va.) and Fiessinger had impact seasons at first and second, respectively, while Katie Pritchett (Ringgold, Ga.) stepped up at third base.
All those players return with a push from freshman Leah Sohm (Knoxville, Tenn.) and Ashtyn Patterson (Andersonville, Tenn.), not to mention the Eagles' best pinch-hit bat off the bench and reliable back-up first baseman Janelle Benzick (Virginia Beach, Va.)
"It's awesome, and we couldn't ask for anything better," Fiessinger said of the Eagles' talent and depth in the infield. "We have people at different positions that we can move around if we have to. I also feel like everyone supports everyone else. So even if someone's not playing, you feel like they have your back."
The infusion of talent has resulted in some position shuffling. Fiessinger makes the move to third after an All-American season at second. Toppel shuffles to second, speaking to her ability to play both positions in the middle infield well. Sohm enters the fray at short while Pritchett can play both third and first in addition to being a more than capable designated player.
Fiessinger said the Eagles' middle infield is incredibly formidable.
"They're amazing," Fiessinger said. "Leah is a great athlete. Top's done a great job of helping her understand what coach wants in a shortstop and understand the leadership role of that position. She wants what's best for the team and has embraced that position."
Toppel earned All-SAC honors in back-to-back seasons and was a preseason first team pick. As a junior, she hit .310 with 48 hits in 155 at bats. Toppel dropped down a team-best 15 sacrifice hits, she was second in the league in that regard.
Toppel also swiped 24 bases in 26 attempts and ranked third in the conference in pilfers. The Roanoke, Va.-product produced 13 multi-hit and five multi-RBI efforts. Included in that is Toppel's first career four-hit game, which she did at King on Feb. 11.
Carson-Newman went 27-7 when she scored a run. Toppel was a black hole defensively, especially in conference play. She only made one error at short.
Sohm played for former Carson-Newman All-American Carol Mitchell at Gibbs High School. The shortstop has hit north of .380 in every year of her high school career. She has a total of 133 career stolen bases through three seasons. Her best year came in her sophomore season, when she hit .481 with 51 swipes. She earned first-team All-Prep Extra honors as a sophomore and junior as well as All-KIL and All-State honors. She was also tabbed to the TSCA All-Academic team as a junior.
Scott started all 56 games of her freshman season at first base for the Eagles. She tallied a .292 average with 50 hits in 172 at bats. Scott belted a team-high 13 doubles and hit six home runs, the second most on the team. Scott became the second fastest player in Carson-Newman softball history to homer. She clobbered a a dinger in her fourth career at bat against Lees-McRae off a 1-1 pitch.
"Taylor's worked hard in the offseason," Fiessinger said. "You can tell that she's been working to stretch to get the out quicker, and working on her backhand as well. You can just really tell she's put in the effort in the offseason."
Meanwhile, Fiessinger is the second player in the history of the Carson-Newman softball program to earn All-America honors as a second baseman joining Whitney Hickam (2008).
Elayna Siebert played second in 2015, but also split time in the outfield, behind the plate and at short; she earned her All-America status as a utility player. She and Lacie Rinus became the second and third freshmen in the history of the Carson-Newman softball program to earn All-America honors.
Fiessinger hit .398 for the season, the sixth highest in the South Atlantic Conference. She hit a team-best 10 home runs, five triples and 72 base hits. She was 13 hits away from breaking into the top seven for a single season in conference history.
The Benton, Ky.-native started the year on an 18-game hitting streak, the fourth longest in school history. Her top single-game effort came March 27 against Brevard. She tied the single-game school record with two triples against Tornados. The two triples were a part of a four-hit day for Fiessinger. Combined with a home run and a single, she had 11 total bases on the day, the second most in school history.
"It's been a challenge," Fiessinger said of the move to third. "Coach has helped me integrate myself there. I've learned to be quicker and strengthen my arm to make longer throws."
Pritchett brings one of the biggest bats in the order for Carson-Newman, as a junior, Pritchett clobbered six home runs, the second most on the team. She hit .242 for the season with six doubles as well. The third baseman only made six errors at the hot corner after making the move from catcher to the infield. Pritchett walked a team-high 25 times. Her best outing came against Queens en route to SAC Player of the Week honors for the first time in her career. She went 4-for-4 at the plate with a double and two dingers.
Benzick was used in a variety of spots last year for the Eagles. She appeared in 21 games with 10 starts. Benzick swung a potent bat, hitting .406 for the year with 13 strokes in 32 at bats. She conked three doubles and drove in seven runs, slugging .500 for the year with a .472 on base percentage. She also successfully laid down four sacrifice bunts, the third most on the team. She tallied a career-best three hits against Augusta (3/5) while driving in a career-best three runs against Bluefield State (3/9). Carson-Newman went 9-1 when she started and 7-0 when she scored a run.
Patterson finished her career at Union Country with a .385 careerr batting average and 10 home runs. She hit better than .400 in both her sophomore and senior seasons with .441 and .486 tallies, respectively. She was a four-time all-district pick and earned All-State honors from the TSCA in 2016. As a senior, she was named district player of year while leading UCHS to back-to-back district titles, including the program's first state tournament run in 2016.
Carson-Newman's position previews continue Tuesday with the outfield.