2009 UMass Softball Season Preview
Feb. 4, 2009
AMHERST, Mass. - The 2009 edition of the UMass softball team will take on the responsibility of maintaining, and accept the challenge of improving, the standard of excellence that has been established by the program over the years. The most accomplished softball program in the northeast, and consistently among the top in the country, the Minutewomen have made 18 NCAA Tournament appearances, including 14 in a row, and have won 20 Atlantic 10 Conference Championships. Head Coach Elaine Sortino has been there at the helm for every one of them, amassing a 1,017-431-5 career record, last season becoming just the eight Division I coach to eclipse the 1,000-win plateau.
2008 was another year of success for UMass, as the program posted a 42-13 overall record, its seventh 40-win season ever. The Minutewomen blitzed through the A-10, going 20-0 and running their conference winning streak to 38 games. They then won another three games at the A-10 Championship to claim their 20 conference title. The team's 14th straight NCAA berth followed, where the Minutewomen hosted a regional for the third season in a row. UMass won three games before being eventually eliminated by Stanford.
Two Minutewomen from last season's squad were lost to graduation. Second baseman Stacy Cullington, who holds the school single-season home run record (15), and left fielder Lauren Proctor both graduated. Both players started and hit in the middle of the order. To compensate for the losses, Sortino brings in six rookies. A versatile bunch, the group consists of a pitcher, two outfielders, and three that can play either infield or outfield. They provide balance at the plate as well, three right-handed and three left-handed.
With proven veteran leaders and young talent ready to prove itself, the Minutewomen hope to not only continue their recent success, but take that success to higher levels.
There may not be a more established player in the country at her position than senior pitcher Brandice Balschmiter. Going into her final campaign, the righthander is a three-time Easton All-American, three-time NFCA All-Region, and three-time A-10 Pitcher of the Year. She has firmly entrenched herself with the all-time UMass greats and begins the season just 16 wins shy of former Minutewoman and Olympian Danielle Henderson's school record of 108.
"Brandice is a mature and confident pitcher," Sortino said. "She has pitched enough between her experiences here and her summer experiences with the Brakettes to know what kind of game she has to deliver from the mound to beat great teams."
Sortino has the luxury of having a more than capable starting pitcher behind Balschmiter in junior Bailey Sanders. The Durham, Conn. native was named second team All-Conference as a freshman, when she went 10-4, and followed that up last season with an 11-5 season in which she dropped her ERA from 2.47 to 1.90. "Bailey had a really great summer (with the Stratford Brakettes)," Sortino said. "She comes back to us much more confident."
Joining the two veterans is freshman Sara Plourde. A righthander from Bristol, Conn., she has impressed the coaching staff with not only her pitching, but her composure and maturity that goes beyond her years. "Sara is a very gifted and talented pitcher," Sortino said. "She has grown and improved a lot since the fall season and is also a good hitter."
With three pitchers, UMass will have the luxury of being able to take some of the workload off Balschmiter without suffering a significant drop-off. This will allow for arms to not have as many innings wearing on them as the tournament season approaches. "This is the first time in a number of years we have had three bullets in the chamber," Sortino said. "We have two upperclassmen. They've been tried and tested. They seen great competition and handled all the battles. We also have a very talented freshman that has grown a lot physically and mentally with her game."
A pair of youngsters returns with a year of experience under their belts to round out the catchers. Sophomore Meghan Carta made five appearances as a freshman in 2008, while Stephanie Mayne red-shirted last season. "Stephanie is going to do a lot for us offensively and is going to be potent at the plate," Sortino said. "She handles all three of our pitchers very well. Meghan has matured a lot behind the plate. She handles all three pitchers with ease. She is definitely coming into her own offensively and she has a lot of talent."
Senior third-baseman Whitney Mollica anchors the group. She started her career with a bang in 2006, setting the conference RBI record (61) and being the only player to win Player and Rookie of the Year honors in the same season. She has maintained the pace throughout her career, climbing the UMass charts in many offensive categories. She starts the season 28 RBI shy of KJ Kelley's school record. Defensively, Mollica has improved every season, with error totals dropping each year (17, 12, 6). "Whitney is a potent, strong bat and can hit it far," Sortino said. "She looks better than ever handling her position at third base."
Next to Mollica for the last two seasons has been shortstop Whitney Williams. The junior returns after two-straight years of hovering around .300 in batting average and wreaking havoc on the opposition with her speed from the left side. After not hitting a home run as a freshman, Williams added some pop to her bat in 2008, hitting seven home runs and driving in 24. "Whitney has worked very hard in the preseason and it is starting to show up at the plate," Sortino said.
At first base, Sarah Reeves had a breakout year in 2008. Taking over for graduated starter Amanda Morin, she led the team and tied for the A-10 lead in home runs with 10 to go along with 38 RBI. Her glove-work was excellent as well, with only three errors in 425 chances. Sortino expects even more from the junior this season. "It has been a total metamorphosis for Sarah at the defensive end," Sortino said. "Offensively, she is right up there with the best and most powerful of our hitters."
Second base is the spot on the infield that could be up for grabs. Senior Carly Morin, who saw considerable time there last year, will have an opportunity to win the spot. She started in 25 games in 2008 and enters this season looking to end her career strong. "Carly brings a lot to us in the middle infield," Sortino said. "She is able to step in and handle the ball very well. She does it with confidence and her offensive game improves every year."
Also vying for playing time is junior Michelle Libby. She saw action in 21 games as a sophomore and continues to show steady improvement. "Michelle has great versatility and really grown offensively," Sortino said. "She has also become very sure-handed on defense."
Freshman Kyllie Magill got the opportunity in the fall season to put her defensive skills on display at both middle infield spots and will surely compete for playing time. "Kyllie has the potential to make an impact as a freshman," Sortino said. "She needs to continue to work at the plate and be confident in her skills."
Sophomore Audrey Boutin burst on the scene with a two-RBI pinch hit in the A-10 Championship game last year and is sure to compete for time, as she provides strong depth at either corner spot. "Audrey is going to be a more than formidable force to deal with at the plate and certainly has the ability to handle the ball at the corner infield spots for us," Sortino said.
Rounding out the infield is a pair of versatile freshmen that can play infield or outfield. Tawny Palmieri and Jordan Storro are expected to primarily provide depth at middle infield. "Tawny has great hands and is a good athlete," Sortino said. "She's doing better offensively and has pretty good power." She adds of Storro, "Jordan is coming into her own offensively. She has good speed, runs the bases well, and is going to be a good hitter for us."
Sure to be on one side of Normandin is senior Samantha Salato. Salato has started the last two seasons in right field, but saw most of her innings last fall season in left. A career .292 hitter, she set career highs in home runs (7) and RBI (32) in 2008.
The other corner outfield, vacated by the graduated Proctor, will be up for grabs going into the season. Senior Davina Hernandez has experience and a strong throwing arm on her side. She made 40 appearances last season, mostly as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement. "Davina has a strong arm in the outfield," Sortino said "She has done the things she needs to do to be more consistent for us offensively."
Also vying for a spot in the outfield is another veteran that primarily pinch-ran last year, junior Jill Andrews. "Jill is hitting the ball better and is very sure-handed and aggressive defensively," Sortino said.
Freshman Katie Bettencourt has impressed early on with her hitting and will compete for playing time immediately. "Katie is a good offensive force with a good swing," Sortino said. "She should see some plate appearances if she continues to do what she has been doing."
Another outfield option for UMass is freshman Stephanie Mix. A speedster from the left side of the plate, her short-game continues to develop. "Stephanie brings speed to our lineup and will help us on the bases," Sortino said. "As she matures, she is definitely going to help us at the plate."
Fellow freshmen Magill, Palmieri, and Storro will all be competing to see time in the outfield as well.
The Minutewomen open the season Feb. 6-8 in Boca Raton, Fla. at the FAU "Kickoff" Classic, where they will play Maryland, Florida Atlantic, Long Island, Pittsburgh, and Michigan. After that, it will be on to Cathedral City, Calif. for the Cathedral City Classic Feb. 20-22 and matchups with N.C. State, Tennessee, UCLA, Oklahoma, and Arizona State. Feb. 27-March 1 is the NFCA Leadoff Classic in Columbus, Ga. There UMass will play Nebraska, Georgia, Mississippi State, Southern Illinois, and Alabama. The Minutewomen then travel to Clearwater, Fla. March 13-15 for the USF Under Armour Showcase against Central Michigan, South Florida, Loyola Marymount, Jacksonville, and Florida Gulf Coast.
UMass opens Atlantic 10 Conference play on March 22 at Dayton. UMass will play road A-10 series against the Flyers, Saint Joseph's, Temple, Charlotte, and Rhode Island over the course of the season. The home opener at the UMass Softball Complex is March 27 vs. St. Bonaventure. The
Minutewomen will host A-10 series against the Bonnies, Saint Louis, George Washington, La Salle, and Fordham.
Non-conference matchups for UMass this season include Boston College, Providence, Connecticut, Vermont, and Boston University.
The A-10 Championship will be held in the Bronx, N.Y. on the Fordham campus on May 6-9. "Our schedule is what it needs to be for us to have a chance to go to the NCAA Tournament and prepare us to advance," Sortino said.
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