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Former Salem Softball Star Making Big At UMass

Whitney Mollica has made a major impact as a freshman at UMass.

Whitney Mollica has made a major impact as a freshman at UMass.

May 4, 2006

Former Salem softball star making big at UMass

By JIM FENNELL

Staff Sports Writer

Elaine Sortino didn't know much about Whitney Mollica before she called last year. OK, she basically knew nothing at all about the then-senior at Salem High School.

Sortino, the longtime softball coach at UMass, was making a courtesy call, following up on one of the many leads she gets.

She told Mollica to send her a tape. If she liked what she saw, she would invite the player to campus for a visit. If not, well, then it was nice talking to you.

Looking back, Mollica wonders why Sortino ever did invite her down to campus to make an official recruiting visit. Her swing was all wrong and the way she fielded a ball was too slow.

"I look at that tape now and I don't know what they saw in me," Mollica said.

Sortino saw enough on the tape to make her think Mollica could play college softball somewhere. But it was after meeting her in person that made her sure she wanted Mollica to play for her.

"She won me over," Sortino said.

Mollica has won over a lot of people since arriving in Amherst, Mass.

Windham's Whitney Mollica, a Salem High graduate, is enjoying a record-setting rookie season as a freshman third baseman with the University of Massachusetts softball team.

The freshman third baseman is about to break the Atlantic 10 Conference's single-season record for runs batted in as the first-place Minutewomen are on the verge of clinching the conference's regular-season title.

Mollica leads the conference in average (.426), home runs (10) and RBIs (56). She will set a conference record with the next run she drives in. And, when you consider that she has struck out just nine times in 141 at-bats and has a slugging percentage of .801, she is that rare power hitter who is disciplined at the plate.

"She has the eye and mentality of a great hitter, just what most young kids lack," Sortino said.

Mollica should break the RBI record whenever the Minutewomen are ever able to take the field again. They had games canceled the past two days by rain, including yesterday's game against Boston College, and will have to wait until Friday to try again, when they close out their conference schedule against St. Bonaventure.

Sortino says Mollica approaches each at-bat with a "controlled state of aggression," an ability to swing hard but not wildly.

"Most kids, you have to pull it out of them," Sortino said. "She came with it."

Sortino said that was obvious early and, even though Mollica's mechanics needed to improve, she has had the freshman batting in the middle of the order since the first game of the season.

"I thought she'd be solid, a contributor," Sortino said. "But did I think she'd be doing what she's doing? I'd be a pathological liar if I said yes."

Sortino said the best thing about Mollica is that she has her for another three years after this season. As good a player as Mollica is turning into, Sortino says she is an even better leader.

"If I could clone her and make 18 others just like her, I'd be going to the College World Series," Sortino said.

Sortino, one of only 10 softball coaches in college history to win more than 900 games, has already taken three teams to the CWS and may have a team capable of getting there again this year.

She compares Mollica's drive to Danielle Henderson, a former Olympian who was named the 1999 college player of the year during her senior season at UMass.

While Henderson was at the CWS to accept her award that year, she told Sortino she would trade the award for another chance to play in the World Series. The team made it there during her sophomore and junior seasons, but not her senior year. That is the kind of player Sortino sees in Mollica.

"She gets it at a very young age," Sortino said.

Mollica, who was named the Union Leader player of the year as a senior at Salem, was 11-2 as a pitcher and batted .552 while playing shortstop during her final season for the Blue Devils.

Sortino found out about her through Dick Bresciani, a former UMass sports information director who is currently the vice president of publications and archives for the Boston Red Sox. Bresciani is a friend of Mollica's grandfather, former Red Sox manager Don Zimmer.

Mollica was also a standout field hockey player and considered playing both sports in college if she had gone to a Division II or Division III school. But she wanted to play at the highest level and UMass has long had one of the top Division I softball programs in New England. She knew she would only be playing softball there, and committed a day after her official visit.

"It was the best decision I ever made," the sports management major said.

There are a few people down at UMass that would probably agree.

 

 

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