PLYMOUTH, N.H. - It should be an improved Plymouth State College softball team that takes the field when the Panthers open the 2002 campaign in Fort Myers, Fla.
PSC will play 10 games against 10 different opponents in six days in the annual Gene Cusic Classic, beginning Sunday (3/18) and running through Friday (3/23) with an off day on Wednesday (3/21). The team returns to New England for the Little East Conference opener on Saturday, Mar. 30, at Eastern Connecticut. The home opener is slated for Apr. 3 against Bates.
The Panthers have nine returning veterans, including five starters, and a solid group of newcomers that includes two strong pitchers, forming what second-year head coach Harry Blood thinks is a very competitive squad.
"We're aiming to win 20 games, and that's a realistic goal," said Blood, who led the Panthers to a 10-20 mark in his first season. "Defensively, we should be very solid; our pitching is much improved, with two quality freshman pitchers; and we have most of our top hitters back from last year."
The Panthers will also be out to improve on last year's Little East Conference results. They finished 4-10 in conference games, and missed the LEC Tournament.
"This year only four teams make the conference tournament," said Blood, "and we want to be one of those four. It will be a tough challenge, because there are good teams in this conference, especially Western Connecticut, Keene State and Southern Maine."
2002 P.S.C. Softball Outlook
It's a young Panther team this season, with only one senior and two juniors. Blood will count on the three of them, senior 2B Kristen Fusick (Windsor Locks, Conn.), junior OF Steph Marsland (Cumberland, R.I.) and junior C/OF Adriene Harvey (Nantucket, Mass.), to lead their younger teammates.
"This year should be better in many ways," said Blood. "Many of us have been together as a team for over a year, and we're more comfortable with each other. We know what to expect from each other, and that can only help."
Look for junior Adriene Harvey (Nantucket, Mass.) to get the majority of playing time behind the plate. Harvey has seen plenty of action back there in her first two seasons, and is a solid backstop. She also possesses one of the strongest bats in the Panther line-up, leading the team in hits the last two years. When Harvey needs a break, she can play outfield while sophomore reserve Heidi Beaulac (Newmarket, N.H.) handles catching duties.
PSC has several veterans in what should be a strong infield unit, led by four-year starter and two-time All-LEC selection Kristen Fusick (Windsor Locks, Conn.) at second base. The senior co-captain provides steady defense, a clutch bat and veteran leadership, and she may also see some time in the outfield. Sophomore Kristin Balles (Bedford, N.H./Manchester West) returns as starter at first base. She is one of the top defensive players on the team, according to Coach Blood, and has plenty of pop at the plate.
Sophomore Michelle Knox (Gilmanton, N.H.) takes over as the full-time shortstop. Knox got her chance as a freshman due to injuries to upperclassmen, and made the most of it by leading the team with a .375 batting average. Freshman Annie Metz (Stoughton, Mass.) is one of PSC's top newcomers and should be the new starting third baseman as well as a starting pitcher. She is very athletic and versatile, and should help the Panthers both offensively and defensively.
Coach Blood is confident with the infield reserves. Freshman Sara Madden (Londonderry, N.H.) is a back-up at first base, and freshman Anna Godard (Florence, Mass.) will see playing time at second. Sophomore Kerry Brady (Jefferson, N.H.) can fill in at either shortstop or third base, while Balles, Madden, or sophomore Krissy Crego (Rochester, N.Y.) could see action at the hot corner.
The Panthers have a returning veteran in center field in junior co-captain Steph Marsland (Cumberland, R.I.), but will have new faces in left and right. Marsland is steady defensively, and possesses a strong and accurate arm, according to Blood. She will be flanked in left by either sophomore Mo Cancellieri (Stoughton, Mass.), a left-handed hitter and good defensive player, or freshman Michelle Dubois (Auburn, Maine). The right field position will often be manned by freshman Jessica Rousselle (Deerfield, N.H.) as well as Fusick, Harvey or sophomore Maria Curran (Scarborough, Maine).
Blood is excited about the arrival of the two newcomers, freshmen Kim Jeffs (Stoughton, Mass.) and Annie Metz. Jeffs should be the ace of the staff, with an arsenal of pitches and excellent control. Coach Blood is also very comfortable giving the ball to Metz or sophomore Jes Leary (Farmington, N.H.), the top returning pitcher from last year's squad who's improved her control.
"Pitching was an area where we needed to improve, and there's no question we have," said Blood. "I am very confident with our pitching staff as a whole."
Blood is hoping the Panthers get the season off to a good start, beginning with the annual spring trip to Florida for the Gene Cusic Classic in Ft. Myers. That's followed up by the 26-game New England slate, leading up to the Little East Conference Tournament on Apr. 30-May 4.
"We still have some areas where we need to improve," said Blood, "but I'm pleased with what I see. We have the makings for what could be a pretty good softball team."
2002 PSC Softball Roster 2002 PSC Softball Schedule