PLYMOUTH, N.H. - Many college students go to Florida during spring break, but the Plymouth State College women's softball team will be thinking about more than sun tans and water sports.
The Panthers make their annual trip to Ft. Myers, Fla., next week (Mar. 23-27), where they will play eight games in five days at the Gene Cusic Classic. PSC then returns to New England for a difficult 28-game slate, including 14 games in the powerful Little East Conference.
PSC has six home games scheduled the first week back from Florida, including tough LEC doubleheaders against Western Connecticut and Eastern Connecticut. The Panthers are looking to challenge for an upper-level spot in the conference heading into the season-ending tournament.
Sixth-year head coach Robin Payne returns nine veterans from last year's squad, and a solid contingent of newcomers out to improve on last year's 10-22 season.
1998 P.S.C. SOFTBALL OUTLOOK
With the return of nine letterwinners, including a pair of All-Conference hitters and the entire pitching staff, the Panthers are primed to return to the top half of the Little East Conference and perhaps a visit to the post-season.
PSC dipped to the lower division of the conference last season, but with three returning hurlers and the top three hitters from last year back, Coach Payne feels the team could be back in the thick of the LEC race.
"The key to this year's season is the leadership of our veterans," said Payne. "They've been together now for a year or two. We also have more depth this season than we've had in a couple of years. Our numbers are up, the pitching is solid, and we're looking for a good season."
The Panthers finished the '97 campaign at 10-22 overall, and 3-7 in the Little East. The conference will host a post-season tournament for the first time this spring, and Payne would like nothing more than to reverse last season's record and challenge for the title.
As a former pitcher herself, Payne feels good about the strength and depth of the pitching staff. At the top is junior Amanda Murphy (Collinsville, CT), who is now in her third season as the No. 1 hurler on the squad. The lefthander struggled a bit last season, but has registered 10 wins the past two seasons, and could be one of the dominant pitchers in the conference.
Joining Murphy on the staff for the second straight season are sophomore right-handers Jen Moulton (Bow, NH) and Heather Gadourey (Billerica, MA), who both earned valuable collegiate experience in '97. Moulton led the team with five wins, while Gadourey was right behind Murphy with a 3.87 ERA.
"For Murph, this is a year where she can shine," said Payne. "She had a tough year last season and I know she's looking forward to becoming a dominant force in the LEC. Jen and Heather have the experience and they should be comfortable in complimenting Murph."
This should again be a strong area for the Panthers, with the return of two-time All-Conference pick Jen Arrajj (Lawrence, MA). She has led the team in batting the past two seasons, hitting .398 last season after a sparkling .431 average in '96. While there is little doubt about Arrajj's hitting ability, Payne would like her backstop to take more control defensively.
"Jen needs to be more of a leader behind the plate," said Payne, "and use her experience to demand pitches that need to be thrown. We need to mix up the pitches and keep the batters off stride."
Backing up Arrajj behind the plate will be freshmen Jessica Norse from Vermont State champion Brattleboro Union, and Steph Ruel from Biddeford, ME.
The entire infield is back on the team, which Payne feels will be a strength, although starting first baseman Paula Richard (Gardner, MA) will miss the first part of the season with a shoulder injury. But Payne is optimistic with the strength of the two middle infielders - second baseman Andrea Scavuzzo (East Walpole, MA) and shortstop Sara Wormwood (Rutland, VT).
"They are the trigger points of the infield," said Payne, "and I'm looking for big things from them. They've worked together a lot during the off-season, and I expect Sara to be full-time at short, so they should get even better as the season goes on."
Scavuzzo, a co-captain with Richard for the second consecutive year, blossomed into an outstanding player in '97. She raised her batting average over 100 points to .340 while playing a sound second base. Wormwood earned honorable mention on the All-LEC team after a superb freshman year that included a .370 batting average with 12 extra-base hits and 25 RBI. She will likely remain at short this season after seeing time last season in right field, shortstop and third base.
The other returning infield starter is Carrie Turgeon (Derry, NH) at third base. She earned valuable experience as a freshman starter, and her experience will help stabilize the infield. Payne has inserted junior Kerry Bickford (Belmont, NH) at first base for the injured Paula Richard. Bickford is a transfer from Dean College and could add pop to the line-up.
Infield reserves include freshmen Sarah Daye (Littleton, NH) at first base, Jackie Wentworth (Stratham, NH) at second, and Sarah Jarry (Hudson, NH) at third.
The Panther outfield will have a bit of a different look this spring, but Payne is pleased with the contingent. A junior and two freshmen are likely to start, with three other newcomers serving as reserves.
The only returnee in the outfield is junior Michelle Sullivan (Rochester, NH) who returns in center field this season. She struggled at the plate as a freshman, but looks to come around this season as well as directing traffic in the outfield.
Freshman Abby Russell (Newfane, VT) will take over in left. Payne says Russell has outstanding speed and can run down fly balls with ease. Classmate Kelly Anderson (Exeter, NH), who has a very strong arm, will likely start in right, as well as serving as a back-up shortstop.
The depth in the outfield includes sophomore newcomers Jennell Carter (Allenstown, NH) and Raleigh Lapierre (Haverhill, MA) and freshman Emily Caroll (Plymouth, MA).
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