PLYMOUTH, N.H. - The Plymouth State University softball team opens the 2006 season this weekend with its annual trip to Fort Myers, Fla., for the Gene Cusic Collegiate Classic.
The Panthers will play 10 contests in six days in the round-robin classic, with a day off in the middle. PSU has 26 more games on tap back in New England with 14 Little East Conference affairs, including 10 slated for its home field, D & M Park.
PSU is scheduled to open LEC action on Saturday, Apr. 1, at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. The home opener isn't until Tuesday, Apr. 18, against Keene State. The regular season wraps up on Apr. 29, with the annual LEC Tournament the first week of May. The Little East Tournament champion receives an automatic bid into the NCAA Division III Softball Tournament.
The Panthers won five of their final eight last season to finish with a 15-18 overall record. PSU finished 6-8 in conference play and qualified for the conference tournament, where they went 1-2, dropping a pair of close games.
2006 PSU Softball Outlook
Plymouth State has 11 returning veterans and a solid group of newcomers, but everyone wants to know how the Panthers will adjust after the graduation of Kim Jeffs, one of the most decorated pitchers in the history of NCAA Division III softball.
"We'll be fine," says PSU third-year head coach Bruce Addison (right). "We can't look in the past; we know Kim won't be out there for us. Everyone just needs to be themselves, and play up to their capabilities."
"We haven't even discussed playing without Kim," adds Addison. "Plus, she's our pitching coach and we're taking advantage of her knowledge and experience and that helps tremendously."
Jeffs had a solid #2 pitcher behind her the past three years, and now senior co-captain Rose Eaton (Concord, N.H.) will be the ace. She has a 15-14 career record and the full confidence of the team.
"Rose will lead the way," says Addison. "She has tons of experience and knowledge of how to get people out. She knows how to pitch to certain people in certain situations. We hope she will lead us down the road to success."
A pair of freshmen, Courtney McFarland (Hampstead, N.H./Pinkerton) and Lisa Illinger (Hanover, Conn./Norwich Free Academy), will battle for the #2 pitching spot behind Eaton, according to Addison. He says it has been a very competitive situation, which has been good for both pitchers.
The Panther offense is balanced, says the coach, and will look for contributions up and down the lineup.
"Everyone has to help out at the plate," says Addison. "We're not going to rely on one or two individuals. We need everyone to chip in."
Look for sophomore Kristi Curry (Nottingham, N.H./Dover) to be one of the keys on offense. She returns at third base after leading the team in hits, doubles and RBI as a freshman. Senior co-captain and shortstop Jess Fortin (Chester, N.H./Pinkerton) also returns as a starter on the left side of the infield, and Eaton will again see action at first base when she's not pitching. Sophomore Ashley Fleming (Farmington, Conn.) should contribute as a DP or at first base, and Addison is also looking for a spot for sophomore Lori Pettengill (Holderness, N.H./Plymouth Regional).
The rest of the infield players are new faces. Freshman Heather Bartolo (Derry, N.H./Pinkerton) looks like the top newcomer and has the inside edge on second base. Illinger can play first when Eaton is pitching, and freshman Rachel Pothier (Reading, Mass.) can spell Curry at third. Freshman Kristen Abbott (Londonderry, N.H.) could also help out.
The Panthers have depth and experience behind the plate. Junior Cathy Aimola (Wellesley, Mass.) is probably the best defensively, according to Addison, but either junior co-captain Jenny Norton (Minot, Maine/Edward Little) or sophomore Devin Caswell (Wilton, N.H.) can handle the job and all three will get their chances.
PSU has a new starting outfield this spring. Sophomores Jen Dupont (Pembroke, Mass.), Lisa Pelosi (Reading, Mass.) and Shauna Isham (Auburn, N.H./Manchester Memorial) all gained valuable experience as reserves last season, and will look for more playing time this year. Freshmen Leslie Sarno (Durham, N.H./Oyster River) and Leanne Barry (Auburn, N.H./Pinkerton) will also get the opportunity to contribute, as could Abbott or Pothier.
Addison says the team in the field could hold the key to the season.
"To be successful, we have to defend the ball," says the coach. "We have good athletes who can play defense, but we must do it consistently."
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