2003 Softball Outlook
In what has started to be a yearly tradition, the UMBC softball team once again made the four-team Northeast Conference Tournament in 2002. Capping of the most successful season in the program's 12-year history, last year's Retrievers not only claimed the NEC Championship trophy, but also became the first ever UMBC team to win a game in NCAA I competition in any sport. The Retriever softball team, who went 47-21 overall and 18-4 in league play, also recorded nationally ranked stats throughout the season, finishing the year second in the country in hits with 567 and ninth in batting average with .302.
Can they, however, return with a repeat performance this year? "I like winning two out of every three," said Joe French, who is returning for his second year as Head Coach. "Do I think we can win 40 again, with a freshman pitching staff? I'm not sure. I think we have very good pitchers. I think we've got kids who are ready to continue their success and others ready to step up."
This year, French will have to do without the help of several key players who ended their careers with the 2002 season. The list includes last year's starting catcher, Bonnie Nevin, who contributed 33 RBI's, and pitchers Linsi Moy and Angie Amedro, who at the number one and two spots, combined for 35 of UMBC's wins. Although the athlete who will possibly be missed most is 2002 NEC Player of the Year Deanna Vecchio, who led the league in batting last season with a .402 batting average.
"Deanna was a catalyst. She never had a slump all year, offensively and defensively," said French. "Do I think we have a Deanna in Deanna's senior year? No. But I think we've got kids who could do what she did in her first couple of years."
Leading the Retrievers this year will be senior Lisa Boone, who had a team-high 90 hits, and who also drove in four of UMBC's six runs in last year's NEC Tournament, to earn the MVP trophy. "I expect Boone to be phenomenal again, as she takes over the shortstop position vacated by Vecchio," French said.
Joining her in the infield and doing majority of the catching this year will be 2002 All-NEC utility player Christina French. Newcomer Jen San Filippo will serve as the primary backup, while senior co-captain Abbie Kahn and freshman Jessica Keenan might also see time behind the plate. At first base, freshmen Lara Seamon and Lauren Hebb, as well as junior Sarah Crowell will battle for the starting role, while second-base veteran Christy Sheppard is starting her fourth season as a key player at second base. At third base, Northeast Conference Rookie of the Year Kristie Pickeral is slated to start. Infield backups include senior Kristen Rynning and sophomore Alexis Viera.
With plenty of versatility on this year's Retriever squad, numerous players can fill the different outfield positions. Abbie Kahn, who started in left field for majority of the 2002 season, might see time at her old spot, or in center field. Freshman Donnell Sousley, a highly-recruited player from Texas, could see time in either left or right field, while Seamon could also be slated for the starting role in center. Additional players who might see time in the outfield include juniors Crowell and Crystal Beveridge, and sophomore newcomer Amanda Bile. Those batting as designated hitters this season include Sousley, Crowell, Viera and Beveridge, as well as pitcher Amy Sadowl.
Sadowl, a breaking-ball hurler with pinpoint control, will be number two in the rotation, behind new Retriever Lauren Nicholson, a power pitcher who can throw 60-61 mph and comes to UMBC with great credentials. Expected in the number three spot at the season's start is freshman Jessica Mathews, and right behind her will be Seamon, a two-sport UMBC athlete who should be back out on the field in March, at the end of basketball season. Newly recruited transfer Hebb and utility player Beveridge may also pitch in relief in several games throughout the year. Unfortunately, the most experienced pitcher on the staff, junior Kristin Dulay, suffered a torn ACL during the summer. However, French expects her to be back in top form by mid-March to battle for one of the top pitching spots, in time for competitive conference play.
To be prepared for its NEC opponents, UMBC is again playing a rigorous non-conference schedule that includes five tournaments and intense local competition against schools such as George Mason, Towson, Drexel, and Delaware. "The tough schedule will make sure we are battle-tested against all styles of teams," French said.
Overall, this year's squad displays plenty of versatility and an increased amount of depth, as the players are more athletic and quicker, from top to bottom. "The biggest difference that I see is that I have a hungry team this year that enjoyed winning and wants to get back to it," French said.
Hoping not to break a four-year tradition, the Retrievers are intent on returning to the Northeast Conference tournament once more.