Five SEC Freshmen To Watch In 2023
It's easy for college softball fans to place their attention on the fifth-year campaigns of All-Americans in the SEC like Alabama’s Montana Fouts, Florida’s Charla Echols and Arkansas’ Chenise Delce in 2023. However, let’s not forget that the SEC's youngest talent is also arguably stronger than ever and should provide plenty of intrigue as teams compete for championships this spring.
Below, we examine five of the top SEC freshmen entering the 2023 college softball season.
The No. 2 recruit in her class brings one of the most impressive resumes in the country to Baton Rouge. Bergeron is a two-time Louisiana Gatorade Softball Player of the Year, which came in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 academic years. Her best season to date came her junior year, when she batted .562 with 63 hits, 30 home runs and 78 RBIs. She followed that campaign up with 16 home runs and 55 RBIs in her senior season. Bergeron’s high school and travel ball accomplishments helped her be named to the U.S. Junior Women’s National Team last winter.
An intangible Bergeron brings to LSU is her championship DNA. She helped the Hotshots win the 14U USA Elite Select championship, led her high school to a Division III state championship, lifted the Tennessee Mojo to a 16U PGF championship in 2019 and propelled the Texas Bombers Gold to an 18U Co-Sparkler championship in 2020.
Pickens is the best player in the state of North Carolina in her class. She was named the 2020-21 North Carolina Gatorade Softball Player of the Year after racking up 207 strikeouts to accompany a 0.41 earned run average, while also tossing one perfect game and four no-hitters. Later that summer, she was named to the 2021 PGF Futures All-American team.
She bested her junior campaign numbers during her senior year. In her final high school campaign, Pickens posted a staggering 0.20 earned run average and 402 strikeouts, while also holding the opposition to a .062 batting average. Pickens emulates Fouts with her 6-foot-1-inch stature and ability to pitch at 70 miles per hour.
Pickens will not only help head coach Karen Weekly and staff in the circle, but also has the potential to be an offensive threat. During her junior year, she hit .503 with 28 runs scored, five home runs, 22 stolen bases and a .764 on-base percentage.
Pannell was one of 21 high school student-athletes who were named to compete in the PGF Futures All-American Game. She earned this opportunity after she hit 17 home runs, which led the state of Illinois, while also recording a .580 average and 61 runs scored. Pannell brings good speed to the Lady Vols, as she swiped 39 bases that same year. In both her freshman and junior high school seasons, she was awarded All-State and All-Conference honors.
Last summer, Pannell hit for a .488 clip with 11 long balls and 23 stolen bases.
Florida head coach Tim Walton has some of the best lead-off potential in the country with Kendra Falby, Skylar Wallace and now Kaila Pollard. Pollard proved she’s a triple threat in the batter’s box while leading off for one of the best travel programs in the country, Athletics Mercado/Smith.
In her time competing for Athletics Mercado, Pollard helped the program to the OKC Top Gun Championship in 2020 and in 2021, the 18U Alliance Fastpitch National Championship. During that 2021 national championship summer, she hit for a .420 batting average and boasted a 1.289 OPS. Her winning pedigree will help the Gators stay a perennial powerhouse.
In her final travel ball summer season, Pollard was named a 2022 Alliance Fastpitch All-Star selection.
Although the Razorbacks lost a majority of their lineup from a season ago, they will still be in contention to three-peat as conference champions. That is due in large part to the talented recruiting class in Fayetteville this season, and Johnson is a big part of that dynamic.
Head coach Courtney Deifel has looked to incorporate speed into her lineup the past couple years, and the addition of Johnson will help that cause. During her high school career, Johnson stole 109 bases without ever being thrown out.
Johnson does not just appear to serve a pinch-running role, but she is also capable of leading off another powerful Arkansas offense. During her senior year, Johnson hit for a .830 batting average on 39 hits. She also proved to provide production with 48 RBIs and 47 runs scored.
Last summer, Johnson competed in the PGF Futures All-American Game.