College Sports

Seniors dominate Charlotte 49ers’ softball lineup

The Charlotte 49ers softball team has five seniors and a redshirt junior in its starting lineup, from left, Chelsea Lisikatos, Lexi Betancourt, Hayley Lewis, Jackie Kleinsmith, Natalie Capone and Samantha Slade.
The Charlotte 49ers softball team has five seniors and a redshirt junior in its starting lineup, from left, Chelsea Lisikatos, Lexi Betancourt, Hayley Lewis, Jackie Kleinsmith, Natalie Capone and Samantha Slade. CHARLOTTE SPORTS INFORMATION

Last year, the Charlotte 49ers softball team had to follow the results of other games around the league to see if it earned a berth in the Conference USA tournament on the final weekend of the regular.

Charlotte had a bye while three other teams that had post-season hopes played important games. The results played in the 49ers favor and the team was clinched a trip to the league tournament.

This year, players want to have their destiny in their own hands. Charlotte’s large and experienced senior class will have a lot to do with that.

The 49ers’ starting lineup includes five seniors and a redshirt junior. During their first three seasons, Natalie Capone, Samantha Slade, Jackie Kleinsmith, Chelsea Lisikatos, Hayley Lewis, and Lexi Betancourt (who sat our her sophomore season with an injury) have started 607 games between them.

This group and its coach, Aimee DeVos, believes Charlotte can make some noise in the C-USA tournament, which will be played May 7-9 in Miami.

The seniors started in a group of eight freshmen in the 2012 season. Two left the team since.

Of the remaining six, three were raised in North Carolina: Slade, Lewis and Betancourt. The other three have diverse backgrounds. Capone is from Chicago, Lisikatos hailed from New York and Kleinsmith came from California.

“We came in with eight freshmen and we got to go through life together and grow into the young ladies that we are,” said Capone, a three-year starter at shortstop. “We’ve been able to support one another. It seemed so natural to do it as a group. I’ve gained some of my best friends through this program.”

Slade, an Apex native, and Lisikatos, who is from Cold Spring, N.Y., admitted they butted heads as freshmen roommates. Both have strong, outgoing personalities, and it probably didn’t help that Lisikatos had a preconceived impression that all Southerners wore cowboy hats.

Some of the players’ roles changed during their four seasons and they all admit that none of them are the player they were as freshmen. Most notably, Slade started in right field as a freshman, played second base the next two years, and now is a mainstay at first base.

Lewis, who played at Jay M. Robinson, failed to crack the starting lineup in her first two seasons. Since then, she has been a solid outfielder who has developed a reputation for starting rallies from her ninth spot in the batting order.

Capone came to Charlotte believing she was a heavy hitter capable of reaching the fences. In her final season, she proudly describes herself as a scrappy player who wishes to give opposing pitchers fits by simply reaching base. She led the 49ers with a .330 batting average through 38 games.

Lisikatos, who has a team-high 10 homers, spent her first three seasons as a part-time pitcher. Now a full-time third baseman, she has become a more consistent player, according to DeVos.

Betancourt, a Garner native who says she will come back to pitch for her redshirt senior year, and Kleinsmith, a catcher, formed one of the best batteries in program history. Kleinsmith’s leadership behind the plate and her ability to take command of a game has been instrumental in the team’s progress this year.

Victories in all four games of the season’s first weekend gave Charlotte confidence early.

“We started off hot. We liked how it felt and we’ve continued with that,” said Kleinsmith.

Through April 12, Charlotte was 21-20 overall and 7-8 in C-USA.

Joe Habina is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Joe? Email him at joehabina@gmail.com.

Upcoming events

Sunday, April 19

▪ Baseball: vs. Middle Tennessee State, Robert and Mariam Hayes Stadium, 1 p.m.

▪ Softball: vs. Alabama-Brimingham, Phillips Softball Complex, 2 p.m.

▪ Men’s tennis: at Conference USA Championships, Norfolk, VA, TBA

▪ Women’s tennis: at Conference USA Championships, Houston, TX, TBA

Tuesday, April 21

▪ Baseball: vs. Wake Forest, Robert and Mariam Hayes Stadium, 6 p.m.

Wednesday, April 22

▪ Softball: at USC Upstate, Spartanburg, SC, 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Thursday, April 23

▪ Men’s and women’s outdoor track and field: at Penn Relays, Philadelphia, PA, TBA

Friday, April 24

▪ Baseball: at Alabama-Birmingham, 7:30 p.m.

▪ Men’s and women’s outdoor track and field: at Penn Relays, Philadelphia, PA, TBA

▪ Men’s and women’s outdoor track and field: at Highlander Invitational, Radford, VA, TBA

Saturday, April 25

▪ Softball: at Western Kentucky, 2 and 4 p.m.

▪ Baseball: at Alabama-Birmingham, 5 p.m.

▪ Men’s and women’s outdoor track and field: at Penn Relays, Philadelphia, PA, TBA

▪ Men’s and women’s outdoor track and field: at Highlander Invitational, Radford, VA, TBA

Sunday, April 26

▪ Men’s golf: at Conference USA Championships, Texarkana, AK, 8 a.m.

▪ Softball: at Western Kentucky, 1 p.m.

▪ Baseball: at Alabama-Birmingham, 2 p.m.

Source: www.charlotte49ers.com

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