Softball head coach Phil McElroy said his team needs strong pitching this season to round out an otherwise solid team and compete in the NEWMAC after finishing with a losing record in the past three seasons.
“That’s where it begins and ends with us this year,” McElroy said. “We need to see what our pitchers can do.”
In 2016, the Lions were able to rely on Samantha Corey to pitch a little more than half of the innings the team played. Corey’s graduation means McElroy will largely rely on a pitching staff of two juniors, Kodie Cash and Casey Tsamis, and two freshmen, Keely Marquez and Erin Nolan.
Senior captain Shelby Carney, an outfielder, said a pitching-by-committee approach, as opposed to one pitcher receiving most of the playing time, will benefit the team over the course of the season.
“If somebody’s having a bad day, hopefully somebody else can pick them up,” Carney, a marketing communication major, said. “There’s not one person who is solely dominant. We can mix things up. We can throw one of our pitchers who throws harder and then three innings later throw one of them who throws a lot of balls low in the dirt to keep people off balance.”
McElroy said he hopes his team will have a more dynamic offense this season, after scoring only 4.4 runs per game in 2016.
Sophomore catcher Kallista Leonardos, who hit nine home runs, drove in 35 runs, and batted .344 last season, will lead the team’s offense again.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of teams who try to work around her a bit now,” McElroy said. “But I am hoping for her to not only repeat last year—I’d love to see her do a little bit more. I think she’s certainly capable of it. I think she knows she’s capable of doing big things.”
McElroy said he expects other hitters, such as junior Jacqueline DeFusco, to step up too, increasing the lineup’s offensive ability.
Last season, DeFusco led the team with a .432 on base percentage and finished third on the team in home runs and RBIs, despite only playing in 23 games before an ACL injury. Both Leonardos and Carney said they expect DeFusco to have a breakout season.
McElroy said freshman shortstop Micaela Dix will step in and contribute immediately as well.
To round out the program’s coaching staff, the Lions added two new assistant coaches, Taylor Carbone and Hannah Dionne, who both recently graduated from Division I softball programs. Carbone pitched and saw time in both the infield and outfield for the University of Massachusetts Amherst, while Dionne played catcher at Saint Joseph’s University.
McElroy said Carbone primarily works with the team’s pitchers and hitters while Dionne works specifically with catchers and on the team’s conditioning.
Carney said Carbone’s attention to detail is already proving valuable.
“In the fall [Carbone] took the time to work with everybody individually to make sure they understood what they need to work on with hitting and corrected every swing,” Carney said. “We’ve never had that before.”
McElroy said he believes his team’s defense is solid and its offense can do more, but he said it’s much too early to put definite expectations on this team.
“We have some young talent and we’ve been in a bit of a rebuilding process the last couple of years, just trying to get enough healthy bodies on the field,” McElroy said. “I don’t know what the expectations are yet; I do know the goal is to perform well and put a respectable program on the field.”
Carney said it’s been a challenge for the Lions since her freshman year when the team first joined the NEWMAC, but she hopes to end her collegiate softball career with a winning season.
“One of our goals is to make the playoffs, and I really hope we do,” said Carney. “But if we can’t, then I hope we can have a successful season and be over .500, even if it’s in nonconference play.”
The Lions went 1-9 in pre-season play in Florida last week.