McGinnis, Gamecocks Set To Begin 2014 Season
JACKSONVILLE– Sixteen games.
It is the number of games Jacksonville State won in head coach Jana McGinnis’ first year in 1994. It is the same number it lost in her second year in 1995.
In 2014, her 20th season, McGinnis only needs 16 more wins to reach the milestone 700th of her career.
“I honestly don’t think about that,” McGinnis said. “One reason I don’t really like to talk about it is because they’re not my wins–honestly. I was lucky to be a part of them, but there are a lot of players who’ve come through that have contributed to those wins. It’s the program that’s got the wins and we’re very lucky.”
There is a number McGinnis would love to talk about: 40. That is how many games she wants her Gamecocks to win this season. It would be the eighth time the Gamecocks have managed that feat and the first time since going 40-21 in 2011.
Based on voting from other Ohio Valley Conference schools, a 40 win season is not out of the question for the Gamecocks. JSU was voted to finish first in the OVC’s East Division.
“I don’t put a lot of stock in preseason,” McGinnis said. “I’m just thankful that other programs have that respect for us.”
The Gamecocks were voted to finish first in the OVC East in last season’s preseason polls as well. After a 30-27 season, they entered the OVC Tournament only seeded fifth.
“We just told our girls,” McGinnis said, “when we were in the fourth, fifth, when we were in those rankings, we said make it to the tournament. We know we can win the tournament.”
That is exactly what they did. They walked into the OVC Tournament as preseason favorites with an underwhelming record. They walked out as champions.
While the Gamecocks would love to repeat as conference champions, they will try to do so while avoiding things that plagued them a year ago.
“One stability we’ve got to have is consistent pitching,” McGinnis said. “Last year, we had some injured pitchers. We were down to one or two pitchers at a time. I’m not making excuses, but that may have effected us a little bit.”
JSU took some precautions to ensure some the pitching rotation could run deeper. The Gamecocks signed four pitchers: Jordan Sims from Glencoe, Taylor West from Saks, Logan Green from Hebron, Md. and Stephanie Lewis from Fort Meade, Fla.
“It’s great,” senior Pitcher Tiffany Harbin said. “We have a lot of newcomers and a lot of them are pitchers. They bring different things to the table with speed and spin. It’s great to have the variety.”
Harbin has been the workhorse of the pitching staff since arriving at JSU in 2011. That year, she was named OVC Freshman of the Year. Most recently, she was named MVP of the 2013 OVC Tournament after going 4-0 with an ERA of 0.70.
“She is a game-changer,” McGinnis said. “She’s a stopper. She can really give opponents fits. The thing about her, she’s a leader. We’ve got four freshmen pitchers. She can really take them under her wing and show them, this is how DI is. This is how you focus for a game.”
Added Harbin: “I feel like we’ll all have a part on the team. We’ll all be leaders, but we all lead in different ways.”
Harbin is not the only “game-changer” in McGinnis’ eyes. She believe’s senior infielder Kalee Tabor can change a game just by swinging her bat. Tabor showed it Sunday at fan day when she totaled 8 home runs to win the 2014 Home Run Derby.
“She’s got the power that can turn a game around just like that and really spark an offense,” McGinnis said.”We’re just looking for some consistency. We’re looking for a lot out of her.”
Added Tabor: “That would be the most important thing for my team. We work together all the time. If I can be consistent for my team, that’s perfect because I know the rest of the girls will be consistent.”
JSU continued its renovations to University Field in the offseason. Both dugouts were torn down and sunk into the ground. A club house was built for the Gamecocks’ dugout.
Unfortunately, the construction was not complete in time to start the season. The Gamecocks have scheduled their first 18 games on the road to allow for the renovations to be complete. They are set to open the season today at 10 A.M. in Starkville, Miss. against Northern Kentucky as a part of the Mississippi State Bulldog Kickoff Classic.