BALTIMORE – UMBC softball opens its season at the Seahawk Invitational, which was set to begin on Friday, Feb. 14 at UNC-Wilmington, however, due to inclement weather in the Baltimore area, the Retrievers' schedule is now set to take place on Saturday, Feb. 15 and Sunday, Feb. 16. UMBC will play four games throughout its opening weekend at Boseman Field, including matchups with the host Seahawks, Liberty and Norfolk State.
The Retrievers take on UNC-Wilmington in the tournament opener on Saturday at 10 a.m. followed by a 4 p.m. matchup against Liberty. UMBC plays the same schedule on day two, opening the day versus Norfolk State and battling UNC-Wilmington in the nightcap.
Scouting the Opposition
UNC-Wilmington opened its 2014 slate last weekend at the Charleston Southern Softball Tournament. The Seahawks registered a 1-2 record on the weekend, with its victory coming against UMES, 7-0. Freshman pitcher Peyton Jordan earned CAA Rookie of the Week honors following the tournament, posting a 1-1 record in three appearances. Jordan fanned 10 batters in 12.1 innings and allowed four unearned runs.
Second-year head coach Kristy Norton is coming off a successful inaugural campaign that doubled UNC-Wilmington's win total from 2012. Norton returns 14 letterwinners and seven starts from 2013.
Liberty started its first slate under first-year head coach Dot Richardson last weekend at the FGCU/Four Points by Sheraton Invitational. The Lady Flames dropped all five games in their opening tournament, including a pair of one-run losses.
The Lady Flames were picked to finish seventh in the Big South preseason poll after posting a 20-37 record a season ago. Liberty returns 18 letterwinners from 2013, including 2013 NFCA All-Region First Team selection Katie Zavodny and Second Team honoree Sammi Shivock.
Norfolk State fell just shy of its first-ever MEAC title in 2013 after winning five-straight games in the conference tournament, but falling in the finals. The Spartans posted their best Division I finish with a 31-22 overall mark and a second-place finish in the Northern Division.
Head coach Heidi Vacallo returns 14 letterwinners and nine starters in her fourth season with NSU. The Spartans welcome back five All-MEAC performers from a year ago, including 2013 Player of the Year Haley Ward.
UMBC Head Softball Coach Joe French enters his 13th season at the helm of the Retrievers' program and despite back-to-back seasons of missing out on the America East Championships, he is confident that this 2014 team has the chemistry and mind-set to get the Retrievers back to the top half of the league standings.
"Our goal has been to try and change the attitude of settling for being okay," said French. "We want to excel on a regular basis. We brought in nine newcomers, who come from good travel ball teams and good junior colleges and I think their mind-set is that they want to win now. They have combined with the returners to form a strong group and it is evident by their practice and by the way they performed in the fall."
The Retrievers, who return 10 letterwinners and eight starters from a year ago, were picked to finish sixth out of seven teams in the annual America East Coaches' Preseason Poll, but French will rely heavily on his nine newcomers, including a trio of rookie pitchers.
"Our first 17 games of the season are away from home," French said. "If we can win some of those games and establish some early confidence, it will pay dividends for a team that lost 14 games last season by two runs or less and will prepare us for the always tough America East Conference."
French is a continued believer in the game starting and ending with pitching and despite three of his four pitchers being newcomers, this year proves to be no different for the Retrievers. French has set high goals for his new staff, which will focus on minimizing walks and giving the Retrievers' fielders a chance to make a play, as opposed to last year's staff that allowed 4.7 walks per game.
Junior Miranda Clark has two years in the circle under her belt and proves to be the veteran of the Retrievers' young staff. Clark held opponents to a .221 batting average a season ago, ranking third among America East pitchers, and was second on the team in strikeouts (63).
"We are hoping that Miranda will initially establish her command, pitch with confidence and endurance to become a top of the rotation pitcher that we can put up against anyone," said French. "She has two years of experience and now's her time to experience success."
French brings a pair of lefties into the rotation with freshmen Nicole Casagrand and Jessica Holte, who both had great success in high school and during the fall with the Retrievers. Casagrand posted an 18-4 record with a 2.04 ERA in her final season at Hatboro-Horsham High School, in addition to guiding her club team, Tuff N Tuffer Gold, to a 17th-place finish in the ASA Gold Nationals over the summer, while Holte was a four-time Virginia High School League Capital District First Team pitcher at Atlee High School.
The staff is rounded out by freshman righty Kelly Lane, who is coming off a stellar senior campaign at Colonie Central High School, where she recorded an 18-3 mark in the circle and fanned 227 batters. Lane is a two-time Capital District Player of the Year and has provided her ability both in the circle and at the plate.
All three freshmen have the ability to play multiple positions in addition to pitching in order to get their bats in the lineup.
"This is the strongest group of freshmen pitchers that we've brought here in a long time," explained French. "We feel very confident that all three can give us quality innings. They all have a variety of pitches, have good velocity and really pound the strike zone. I think the staff overall compliments each other very well."
The Retrievers return two-time America East All-Conference First Team catcher Taylor Hall for her junior season. Hall has proven to be a key player, both offensively and defensively, in her first two seasons. She batted .367 in each of her first two campaigns with UMBC and hit at a .419 clip during league play a season ago. Hall enters 2014 ranked fourth all-time at UMBC in slugging percentage (.602) and fifth in on-base percentage (.433).
Junior transfer Kathleen Sharp comes to the Retrievers after two seasons at Brookdale Community College in New Jersey where she helped the Jersey Blues to a National Junior College Athletic Association National Tournament finals appearance in 2013. Sharp will battle for time behind the plate, along with fellow newcomers Kinsey Shifflett and Kaelin Jackson.
"Sharp is a great field general and catcher," French said. "She handles the pitching staff almost like a coach on the field, so we are confident with her and Taylor manning the spot behind the plate. Last season we saw quite a few injuries behind the plate, so to add two reliable catchers like Kinsey and Kaelin, I feel that we have our deepest catching rotation that we've seen since the 2006 team."
With added depth at the catching spot, sophomore Jordan Sganga will focus a majority of her time at third base in 2013. Sganga started 41 games in her initial campaign with the Retrievers and this season will look to provide solid performances on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball.
Sophomore utility player Danielle O'Neill returns after earning America East All-Conference Second Team honors a season ago. O'Neill one was one three Retrievers to start all 52 games, including a starting nod at every position except for the pitcher a season ago. The rookie led the team in doubles (10) and ranked second in batting average (.285). O'Neill, as well as Jackson who will see action at both first base and third base, provide French with versatility throughout the infield.
Sophomore Bridget O'Malley emerged as the team's starting shortstop and took over the leadoff spot in the lineup for the remainder of the year in 2013. O'Malley, who posted the second-most walks in a single-season at UMBC with a 34 on the year, will look to build upon her .403 on-base percentage.
Junior transfer Katlin Olesky will help to present UMBC with one of its fastest middle infields it has seen in years as she battles with senior Caitlin Chance for the starting spot at second base. Olesky batted .319 with a .507 slugging percentage in her junior season with Saddleback College in California. Chance enters her final campaign with the Retrievers and looks to build off a season where she batted .300 with runners in scoring position and posted 11-multiple hit games and five multiple RBI games.
Junior Courtney Reinfeld will also see action at second and third this season, after making 27 of her 33 starts at the corner infield spot. Reinfeld hit a career-best .240 last season, including a .375 average with two outs.
Senior Chelsea Bertoglio battled injuries a season ago, but led the team with a .991 fielding percentage at first base. Bertoglio hit .364 with runners in scoring position and drove in 15 runs, in addition to posting the second-highest on-base percentage (.415) on the team. Bertoglio will split time at first and as the designated player, with Hall slipping into both roles as well.
"In a lot of our infield positions, our lineup will depend on matchups or the hottest bat," expressed French. "One thing for certain is that we have our quickest middle infield in years, with Bridget and Katlin representing two of our four fastest players, and I am very confident that we will be able to turn some ground singles into ground outs."
With the injury to freshman center fielder Erin Trnka during fall ball, freshman Jaclyn Buckley emerged as the Retrievers' starting center fielder, further adding to UMBC's speed up the middle. Buckley, who's speed and athleticism allows her to play multiple position, comes from a highly successful high school experience at Eastern Camden Regional, where the Vikings earned state titles in 2010 and 2012. Buckley led Eastern Camden Regional in home runs and runs batted in during her senior season, tying program single-season marks in both categories.
In addition to competing for time at second base, Chance will be a probable starter in the outfield when she is not at second. Classmate Megan Sauble is looking very strong since returning from an injury-plagued junior campaign in which she appeared in 13 contests. Sauble will see time in both the corner outfield positions.
Junior Mary Hartman will provide depth in the outfield after making 43 starts in left field and center field a season ago. The pitching staff will also determine the outfield lineup, with all three freshmen pitchers having the ability to play in the field.
"Some of the rotations throughout the year will be dictated on who is performing well," said French. "Right now, we are much deeper and more athletic than we were last year. The competition amongst the team will be on-going throughout the year, which will only help us to get better."
"Our formula for success this season will include a number of things," French said. "Our winning attitude and strong team chemistry must continue throughout the season. We need everyone playing their best, which includes strong pitching and strong defense, as well as timely hitting, which is a factor that we were without at times last season."