Going into the season without a single senior is not exactly how the Rhode Island College softball team wants to approach the new year, but with every opening comes an opportunity for new faces to step up and shine. The youthful Anchorwomen will approach the 2012 year with the attitude that this group of youngsters can get back to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year.
“We are a small, close knit team,” said sophomore center fielder Stacy Pokora. “We’ll look to surprise a lot of people this year. Just because we are small doesn’t mean we won’t do well.”
Topping the 2011 season we be a tough task to accomplishment this spring for the Anchorwomen. Last year’s squad finished a with a 38-13 record and made an appearance in the Little East Conference finals. Despite falling to Western Connecticut State in that game the Anchorwomen secured an at large bid to the NCAA Tournament. At the NCAA’s, the Anchorwomen won five games before losing in the regional final to Little East rival Eastern Connecticut State.
This year’s team will be centered around three returning vets. “We don’t have a lot of returning players,” said Pokora. “Our team features lots of freshman that are going to step up.”
Pokora was the team’s leading hitter a year ago with a .350 batting average and is expected to move from the bottom of the order up to cleanup duty. The veteran teammate joining Pokora in the outfield is the switch-hitting junior left fielder Kristina Gingell. The feisty junior batted .337 in 2011 and looks to be another power bat in the lineup. Sophomore Marissa Jandreau batted second and played second last year and is slated to do the same in 2012.
Rounding out the starters will be two transfers in first-basemen Jess Borden and catcher Nicole Clemens along with three freshmen. Taylor Nelson will team up with Pokora and Gingell in patrolling the outfield, while the left side of the infield will be filled with freshman. Kate Sykora will be the starting shortstop where she will be partnered with Justina Thoma at the hot corner. Thoma looks to be an important piece of a lineup that should carry the Anchorwomen. “Justina is one of our best hitters and our team expects her to do well,” said Pokora.
Due to the departures of Amanda Berard and Kyla Puccini, the Anchorwomen have only one player on the roster that took the mound in 2011, in junior Emily Johnson. Johnson went 9-2 with a 2.19 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 73.2 innings last season. When Johnson is not mowing down the opposition, look for Jess Borden to toe the rubber with sophomore Maria Darling taking Johnson’s spot in the lineup. Darling, a utility first baseman, could also make an impact on the mound if the opportunity presents itself this season.
“Our hitting is going to have to carry us this season because we are going to have limited pitching. We have to score runs to give our pitchers insurance,” said Pokora.
At the preseason vote to rank the best team in the conference’s best team, the rest of the LEC took note of RIC’s youth, placing them a respectable fourth in a brutally competitive conference. However, the team still has experience off last year’s run and they do not expect to be beaten easily. “Although we are underrated in the LEC, we feel we will do better than what our opponents expect,” said Pokora. “Our goal is to win the conference and get back to the NCAAs.”
The Anchorwomen will begin their quest for the LEC title on a spring break trip to Florida with a scheduled nine games before returning to the Northeast where they will open their regular season with a home stand double-header on Saturday, March 31 against fellow Little East member Keene State.