2010 Outlook: Softball Looks to Mix Talented Youth and Experienced Leaders for Successful Season
Jan. 25, 2010
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.Monday marks the first day of official practice for the Nittany Lion softball team in Happy Valley. Penn State begins its 46th season of competition on Feb. 12 at the Hotel Encanto Invitational in Las Cruces, N.M.
On the precipice of a new season, 14th-year head coach Robin Petrini and her staff prepare for a turning point in Nittany Lion softball history. After earning at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament seven times from 2000-2007, Penn State has been left out of the Big Dance the past two years.
In 2010, the Nittany Lions look to bounce back from an injury- and error-plagued 2009 season behind the strength of powerful pitching, excellent defense and an influx of new talent.
When healthy, Hill put together a fantastic junior campaign in the circle, winning a team-high 13 games with a 1.27 earned run average and career-best 152 strikeouts. Hill missed a month of the 2009 season with a stress fracture to her rib, missing the beginning of the Big Ten season. After her return, the Nittany Lions went 7-6 in league play, including two wins by Hill at Iowa in her 2009 Big Ten debut, throwing 14 innings of one-run ball in her return from the stress fracture.
Backing Hill up are Wong and Akamine who look to improve upon their seasons last year and provide Petrini with three options on the mound. Akamine took on most of the load when Hill went down mid-season, going 6-13 in 25 appearances, striking out 114 as a freshman. Wong also plugged the void during Hill's injury with 11 appearances of her own as she continues to build upon her solid freshman and sophomore campaigns.
Behind the plate will be starting catcher sophomore Danee Collett (Orange, Calif.). A powerful bat in the lineup, Collett was tied for second on the team in doubles (six) last year while knocking out 28 hits and three homers. She was third on the team in slugging (.413) and showed her solid glovework with a team-leading .993 fielding percentage, committing just two errors in 43 starts.
Collett's capable understudy is Ellen McNair (Niceville, Fla.) who sported a .258 batting average and an on base percentage of .361, second-best on the squad in 2009. McNair again will be relied upon to provide depth behind the plate and power in key offensive situations.
On the left side of the infield problems aren't as hard to come by as Desi Giordano (West Caldwell, N.J.) returns with her powerful bat as well as sophomore Ashley Todd (Mill Creek, Wash.). Giordano saw the majority of the time at shortstop a season ago while pounding a team-leading seven homers, knocking home 19 runs and slugging .422. Todd saw most of her time late in the season at third, making 16 appearances overall in the field. Her experience from last year is an added bonus for Petrini and gives her added flexibility in the lineup this season.
Newcomers Alyssa Renwick (Laurens, S.C.) and Lauren Rossi (Yardley, Pa.) along with sophomore Morgan Long (Oro Valley, Ariz.) provide sufficient depth in the infield this season and on the basepaths. Renwick looks to have the inside path at the shortstop position, shifting Giordano over to third this season after an impressive fall season. Rossi, a local product out of Yardley, Pa., will be a key reserve as the season goes on for the Nittany Lions as will Long. Assisting with the infield duties will be Hill who will moonlight at first base on non-pitching days.
Seniors Ashley Griffith (Mt. Laurel, N.J.) and Danielle Noll (Bald Eagle, Pa.), as well as junior Mary Ostman (Northbrook, Ill.) return to the fold as the main outfield contingent for the 2010 season. Griffith is Penn State's best all-around player, residing in left field. She will continue to provide fantastic defense and great offensive numbers at the plate.
Last season, Griffith was named to the All-Big Ten Second Team, leading the squad in batting average (.311) sacrifices (18), and finishing second on the team in on base percentage (.372). She was tied for first on the team with 41 hits and stole a team-high 13 bases.
In center, freshman Cassidy Bell (Bakersfield, Calif.) locked up her position with strong play in the fall season. Bell shifted into the leadoff hole in the lineup for the majority of the fall games, providing Petrini another option in the lineup that features speedsters in Griffith, Yao and Ostman.
There will be a battle for the starting spot in rightfield between Noll, Ostman and freshman Shannon Hutchinson. Noll and Ostman have been limited to pinch hitting and running roles during their Nittany Lion careers, but are poised to step into the everyday role this season, while Hutchinson is trying to get her foot in the door and secure the last remaining starting position on the team. Ostman saw the majority of the time in right field during the fall season.
Akamine headlines four players that will be used all over the diamond in 2010 after a stellar freshman campaign. Akamine was third on the team with a .286 batting average, gathering 40 hits and knocking home 17 runs in the 2009 season, earning All-Big Ten Third Team honors. A free-swinger and solid fielder, the sophomore out of Escondido, Calif. will be used in a myriad of ways, plying her trade in the lineup as a designated player and in right field.
Along with Akamine, McNair will also fill in designated player slots on a game-to-game basis this season, while newcomer Rachel Myers (Millheim, Pa.) also fills that role. A scrappy player out of nearby Millheim, Pa., Myers can play anywhere in the infield or outfield and is a threat on the base paths as well this season.
Penn State hosts 14 games in presumably its final season at Nittany Lion Field. The home opener is March 24 against Central Pennsylvania rival Saint Francis. That game will serve as a tune up to the Big Ten opener against Minnesota, as a two-game series begins March 27 at Nittany Lion Field.
After a pair of road games at Kent State (March 30) and two more at 2009 NCAA participant Purdue (Apr. 3-4), Penn State will host Pittsburgh on Apr. 6 at 3:00 p.m. Another two-game series away at Wisconsin (Apr. 10-11) is the final road trip before a four-game home stand against Big Ten rivals Michigan State (Apr. 14) and Illinois (Apr. 17-18).
The Nittany Lions face a daunting task as they travel to Michigan Apr. 21 for a doubleheader. The Wolverines advanced to the Women's College World Series a year ago, losing to Georgia two round short of the Championship Series.
Four more games at Nittany Lion Field will take place Apr. 24-27 when Penn State hosts Iowa, a 2009 NCAA Tournament team, that Saturday and Sunday before taking on Big East foe Syracuse for a doubleheader on Tuesday the 27th.
Two games away to 2009 NCAA Tournament participant Northwestern (May 1-2) take place before the finale home series of the year against Ohio State (May 8-9). OSU was a NCAA Super Regional participant last season, falling at Georgia. Penn State rounds out its Big Ten and regular season slate at Indiana on May 14-15.
The challenging schedule will see Penn State take two western road swings to begin the year, the first of which is to the New Mexico State Invitational. The Nittany Lions will play five games in three days starting Feb. 12 against UTEP and Colorado State in Las Cruces, N.M. The following day PSU takes on host New Mexico State and Texas-San Antonio before rounding out the tournament on Feb. 14 with a game against 2009 NCAA Tournament participant Nebraska. The following week, the Lions will fly west again, this time to San Diego for the Campbell/Cartier Tournament hosted by San Diego State Feb. 19-21. First-day action sees Penn State go against Western Kentucky and UC Santa Barbara followed up by Utah State and hosts and 2009 NCAA Tournament team San Diego State on Feb. 20. Defending champion Washington cap the Lions' stay in California on the 21st.
Penn State will travel to East Carolina Pirate Classic on Feb. 27 and 28 to take on Towson, Delaware, Morehead State and hosts East Carolina in Greenville, N.C.
The Nittany Lions' spring break will be spent in Clearwater, Fla. when they play 12 games in 10 days at the USF Under Armour Showcase. In the first three days of competition (March 5-7), Penn State will face Central Michigan, Florida Gulf Coast, Ball State, Florida International and host South Florida.
After a day off, Penn State returns to the diamond for a rematch with Central Michigan on March 9 and a game against Saint Joseph's a day later. After another off day, the Nittany Lions conclude their time in Florida with five games against Stony Brook, Toledo, Middle Tennessee State, Southern Illinois, and Kennesaw State over three days, finishing on March 14.
The Nittany Lions will play 16 true road games with 22 additional neutral site games in 2010. In all, Penn State will face teams from 18 different NCAA Division I conferences and will play in all four continental U.S. time zones this season.
Construction on Penn State's new Beard Field is slated to begin this spring with the targeted completion date set for the start of the 2011 season. The new facility will feature indoor and outdoor batting cages, brand new athletic amenities such as clubhouses, in-ground dugouts, new coaches offices, locker rooms, training rooms and study space, while also featuring a new media/press box, concession stands, ticket offices and 1,000 permanent seats facing Mount Nittany. The facility's surface will be named after William and Lee Beard, the main benefactors to the $10.2 million project.