PLYMOUTH, N.H. - After practicing indoors for nearly two months, the Plymouth State University softball team will hope for sunny skies, green grass and warm weather next week during the team's annual season-opening trip to Florida.
The Panthers will make their annual journey to Fort Myers, Fla., for the Gene Cusic Collegiate Classic, where they will play 10 games in six days during the school's Spring Break. Opening day is this Sunday, Mar. 15, with single contests against Saint Lawrence University and Western New England College, and the week wraps up with two games on Friday afternoon, Mar. 20.
PSU has 26 more games on tap back in New England, including 14 Little East Conference affairs. The LEC opener is a doubleheader on Saturday, March 28, at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, and the first home games at D&M Park are slated for Tuesday, April 7, vs. Castleton State College.
The regular season wraps up on April 25, with the top six teams advancing to the annual LEC Tournament the first weekend in May. The Little East Tournament champion receives an automatic bid into the NCAA Division III Softball Tournament.
2009 PSU Softball Outlook
Expectations and hopes are high for the Panthers this spring, coming off an outstanding season in 2008. The Panthers finished with a 25-15 record last season, second-most wins in a season in school history and nearly doubling their victory total from 2007, and earned their post-season berth in five years with an invitation to the ECAC New England Tournament.
"Talent-wise, I feel we should be as good if not better than last year," said sixth-year head coach Bruce Addison (right). "I don't know if we'll match the 25 wins, but we're a lot more talented than we were last season"
The Panthers have a dozen returning veterans, including 10 players who were significant contributors to last year's success. Addison says they are joined by a strong group of newcomers.
"I really like our depth," said Addison. "We have a good mix of experienced returners and newcomers. We're counting on the upperclassmen to produce even more than they did last year, and we've added a freshman class with five or six kids who can produce for us right away. We expect them to come in and be real effective players for us."
PSU returns five of its top six sluggers from last year's line-up, and Coach Addison is looking for a big year with the bats.
"We just have to be more consistent than we were last year," said Addison. "We won a lot of 1-0 and 2-1 games, and there's no need for those games to be so close. The offense could have been more consistent, so we'll be looking to improve in that area this season."
Sophomores Kortney Nedeau (Kennebunk, Maine) and Melissa Caiazzo (Portland, Maine/Deering) were the leading hitters a year ago and will be mainstays in the middle of the Panther line-up, according to Addison. Nedeau, who can play both third base and catcher, batted .350 with seven doubles and four home runs, while Caiazzo, who should hold down first base, hit .347 with four doubles. Each was an LEC Rookie of the Week once last year.
Junior Kay LaBrie (Somersworth, N.H.) and senior Rachel Pothier (Reading, Mass./Reading Memorial) are also strong hitters who will see action at the corners. LaBrie, a third baseman, hit .301 last year with six doubles and a team-high six home runs, while Pothier, who sat out last season, returns after posting a team-high .297 batting average in 2007.
"We have a lot of versatile players," said Addison. "We can move a lot of people around and not lose anything. There's not a lot of difference in our line-up, no matter who we have out there."
Freshman Amy Green (Atkinson, N.H./Timberlane Regional) has been impressive in preseason and is looking to take over the starting shortstop position. Junior Sammi Romano (Kingston, N.H./Sanborn Regional) has experience and an explosive bat and can hold down the job, and freshman Brittany Wells (Essex Junction, Vt.) will get a chance at short as well. Senior Heather Bartolo (Derry, N.H./Pinkerton) and freshman Heather Blase (Milford, N.H.) are battling for the second base spot.
Sophomore Andrea Pydynkowski (Danvers, Mass.) leads the contingent of Panther outfielders, and will likely see plenty of playing time in right field. She earned Second Team All-Conference honors last year after hitting .297 and sharing the team lead with eight doubles. Junior Jenna George (Cumberland, R.I.) is the returning starter in center, and senior Leanne Barry (Auburn, N.H./Pinkerton) and freshman Jen Skilton (Bedford, N.H./Manchester West) will battle for playing time in left. Seniors Michelle Kelly (Hill, N.H./Franklin) and Bartolo and freshman Allie Luisi (North Kingstown, R.I.) could also take turns in the outfield.
Sophomore Laura Kaplan (Franklin, N.H.) is the returning starter behind the plate, and she can get relief from Nedeau and Luisi.
Addison has four pitchers he hopes he can count on, led by senior Courtney MacFarland (Hampstead, N.H./Pinkerton). She is a four-year veteran and should be the anchor of the staff after going 8-6 last year. Jenna George was 2-0 in limited action last spring and will see more time in the circle this spring, and Sammi Romano and freshman Ali Keith (Northfield, N.H./Winnisquam) will also get a chance to prove themselves.
"Having a successful season last year was a great experience for us, but it doesn't guarantee success this spring," said Addison. "Ever year is different, and we can't live off last year. We got a taste of success, but we will have to work hard to taste it again."
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