After finishing last season with a 15-23 record the Slippery Rock University softball team will be looking for a return to the playoffs in 2016.
Led by second-year head coach Stacey Rice the softball team is returning seven position players that made at least 24 starts a year ago.
With all the returning players, Rice thinks this leaves the team with very few holes in the line-up.
“There aren’t a lot of holes on this team and that gives me a lot of confidence, and I think that gives the players a lot of confidence too,” Rice said. “It’s going to be a dogfight for playing time at second base and in right field. We’ll be going with a rotation when we head down south to see who can produce runs and play well together at those positions.”
Headlining the list of returners is senior shortstop Katie Kaiser who started in all 38 games last year for The Rock and led the team with 49 hits. Kaiser batted .353 (49-139) with seven doubles, three triples, four home runs and 21 RBI’s. Kaiser also led the team in fielding assists with 55 and runs scored with 24.
Also returning for her final season is senior third baseman Ashley Samluk. Samluk also started all 38 games and is second among returners with 31 hits last season. Samluk batted .261 (31-119) with six doubles, two home runs and 14 RBI’s.
Other returning seniors include designated hitter Stacey Herzog and outfielder Megan Maloney. Herzog made 24 starts, batting .325 (26-80) and led the team in home runs (seven), RBI (28) and slugging percentage (.725). Maloney made 37 starts, batting .248 (26-105) with eight RBI, 15 runs scored and a team-leading 12 stolen bases.
First baseman Allie Fischer, catcher Lauren Hawley and outfielder Emily Nagle are all returning for their sophomore seasons after seeing significant playing time in their rookie seasons.
Fischer started in 25 games and batted .323 (21-35), Hawley started 36 games and batted .265 (27-102) with two home runs and 17 RBI’s and Nagle started 20 games while batting .333 (15-60). Hawley also threw out six would-be base-stealers from behind the plate to lead the team a year ago.
It would appear that the front-runner for the starting second base job is junior infielder Caitlin Baxter. Baxter started 18 games in the infield last year and batted .292 (19-65) with 14 RBI’s. Sophomore infielder Kaylee Pistorius could be another option at second as she saw action in seven games and had two hits in seven total at bats in 2015 while driving in four runs.
Vying for playing time in the outfield will be junior Nicole Siciliano and sophomore transfers Amanda Brush and Emily Snee. Siciliano went hitless in three appearances last year, Brush went 10 for 45 at Merrimack a year ago and Snee appeared in 17 games for Waynesburg during her rookie season.
Rounding out the returning position players is back-up catcher McKenzie Garland who played in seven games and had four hits in 13 at bats last spring.
Returning on the pitching staff is junior Carly DeRose and sophomores Paige Flore and Brooke Dawson. DeRose led the staff last year with 112 innings pitched, going 8-12 with a 4.13 ERA in 20 starts with 82 strikeouts. Dawson, the only lefty pitcher, was second on the staff lat year with 76 innings, going 5-6 with a 3.22 ERA in 12 starts with 75 strikeouts. Flore had a .91 ERA in 7.2 innings over four appearances.
Rice has high expectations for DeRose in her junior season.
“I have huge expectations for Carly. She’s the leader and the veteran of this staff,” Rice said. “Don’t overlook Paige and Brooke though. Brooke’s a good lefty pitcher and Paige is great at mixing her pitch speeds.”
Slippery Rock was picked to finish fifth out of six teams in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) West division in the preseason coaches poll. Rice thinks this ranking reflects last year’s team and thus is not representative of the 2016 squad.
“We’re just going to have to go out there and prove them wrong. I think we’re a team that could sneak up on some people,” Rice said. “We’re going to stick with our game-plan and be an offensive team that scores and manufactures a lot of runs. Our goal, as always, is to make it to the playoffs.”
The Green and White will start their season Friday when they travel south to Myrtle Beach, S. C. to compete in the Myrtle Beach Softball tournament where they will play five games in a two day span.