The SUNY Potsdam softball team is ready to take the next step this season. The Bears were competitive last year, losing 11 games by three runs or less, but expect that competitive experience to make the difference in close games in 2012.
“Every year, our goal is to make the SUNYAC playoffs,” said eighth-year Head Coach Shannon Dillabough. “We are taking steps in the right direction and it would be nice to qualify. If we had pulled out a few of those close games last spring, who knows what would have happened.”
In order to reach that goal, Dillabough knows his team needs to play better defensively.
“Overall, we hope to improve in the field defensively, compared to last season,” said Dillabough. “We have worked hard to improve that aspect of the game and avoid the mistakes that hurt us last year.”
In 2011, Potsdam committed 65 errors in 34 games, which was tied for ninth most in the conference. They posted a .933 fielding percentage while finishing with a 10-24 record.
The Bears feature a young roster that includes only two seniors. The coaching staff is looking for the ten returnees to lead the way in the rebuilding process. Junior captain Heather Johnson is a two-sport athlete who has been a valuable contributor and leader through her first two seasons on the diamond. She has started all 66 games over the past two years and has a solid work ethic and ability to lead.
“Heather is the ultimate team player, she just gets it,” said Dillabough. “She understands what it takes to win. She comes to play every day. As a coach that’s the type of player you can never have enough of.”
After a slate of 10 non-conference games at the Gene Cusic Classic in Ft. Myers, Fla., from March 11-16, the Bears open their home schedule on April 3 against North Country rival St. Lawrence.
In addition to the regular line-up of league opponents, Potsdam also takes on cross-town rival SUNY Canton.
“It’s nice to go to Florida and see some different programs and play some teams from all over,” said the coach. “That trip prepares us for the SUNYAC, which is one of the best Division III conferences in the nation. We always have at least one nationally ranked team and there is no soft spots or breaks in our schedule.”
Here is a position-by-position look at the 2012 Bears.
On the mound, Potsdam returns sophomore Ashley Thayer who was one of the brightest spots from last season. Aside from pitching the only no-hitter in the school’s history, Thayer posted a team best 3.37 ERA in 18 games. She also led the pitching staff in innings (104), starts (16), strikeouts (110), and held opponents to a .235 batting average. She was one of only two freshmen to earn a SUNYAC Pitcher of the Week Award and she did so in the first week of her collegiate career. Of all pitchers who appeared in at least 17 games, Thayer finished eighth in the conference in ERA and fifth in strikeouts.
“We are really looking for Ashley to come on strong and build on what she did last year,” said Dillabough.
The other starter brings much experience to the hill. Senior Brittany Pawlowski has started 44 games in her three seasons and owns 16 career wins.
“I think Brittany is ready to put together a strong senior season. She has had some injury problems, but she is healthy now and is ready for the year,” Dillabough said.
Senior Katie Nawrot will also be on the mound plenty this season. She has pitched in 46 games during her career, while being the starter for 29 of those contests.
Sophomores Megan Johnson and Molly Zehler will round out the pitching staff and are expected to see most of their action out of the bullpen.
Potsdam will rely on two newcomers behind the plate this season. Freshman Kayla Taylor and sophomore Kara Collins are expected to split time at catcher. Despite being relatively inexperienced, the duo will be counted on to handle the pitching staff and control opponents’ running games.
Zehler is expected to get the majority of time at first base. She played in 20 games a year ago and got the starting nod on nine of those occasions. She leads all returnees with a .975 fielding percentage.
A few players are expected to see time at second base. Heather Johnson provides defensive versatility and will see action at a few different spots. She is expected to share duties at second with her sister Megan. Heather hit .280 while starting all 34 games in 2011. She tied for the team lead with 22 runs scored and added 12 RBI’s, while Megan drove in two runs and posted a .273 batting average. Senior Sarah Hraniotis will also be in the second base mix.
Freshman Sami Brown is a transfer from the University of Buffalo and is expected to be the anchor of the infield at the shortstop position.
“Sami is a local athlete who I think will do big things both offensively and defensively this season. She brings a lot of athleticism to the infield,” said Dillabough.
At third, Potsdam is looking to platoon sophomore Shannon Pagliaro and junior Jenny Jones. Jones brings a powerful bat and her two homeruns last season were tied for third most on the team despite only having 60 at bats. In her first year with the Bears, Jones drove in eight runs while seeing most of her action at shortstop. Pagliaro started in nine games during her freshman season. Also, sophomore Molly McCuin will see time at the hot corner.
Utility player Erin Klettke provides additional flexibility and can fill in at several different positions.
“Any combination of players we put out on the field will be the best defensive team we’ve had. They bring a lot of athleticism, versatility and experience,” said Dillabough.
A couple of freshmen are going to see a lot of playing time in the outfield this year. Megan Jubert will patrol centerfield and Carissa Cornwell will get the majority of the playing time in left.
“They both provide an upgrade defensively to our team,” Dillabough said. “They will shore up our outfield and provide some speed as well.”
Nawrot and Heather Johnson will also be in the mix for playing time in the outfield.
“We have a lot of depth in the outfield and are still working on finding the right combination. We have some youth but I expect good things from all of them,” said the Bears’ head coach.
Dillabough thinks the key to the season is focus.
“We need to focus more and be more intense. With our tough schedule, we need to make sure we are focused every inning, every out, every pitch and maintain that focus all season long.”
The Bears open their season against Lyndon State this Friday, Feb. 24, at the Adirondack Sports Complex Dome in Queensbury, N.Y. First pitch is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.