Rock softball’s blend of experience and youth projected to finish fourth in PSAC West

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Following a 2019 campaign that saw the Slippery Rock softball team fall short of a playoff berth, the league office announced that The Rock has been selected to finish fourth in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Division.

Gannon, the defending PSAC West champions, was picked to win the division once again, garnering three first place votes. Nipping the heels of the Golden Knights is Seton Hill who is projected to finish second after receiving two-first place votes, followed by California (Pa.) (one first-place vote). To round out the West, Edinboro was picked to finish fifth and Mercyhurst sixth.

Picked to land just outside of the playoff picture, head coach Stacey Rice doesn’t let the projections define her team.

“I take the [projections] very lightly, they don’t mean a whole lot to me,” Rice said. “It gives us a little bit of a chip on our shoulder, but it’s usually more of a reflection on how you finished last season.”

In a year of highs and lows, The Green and White finished with an overall record of 18-27 last season and 8-12 in conference play in 2019 which resulted in a fifth-place finish in the PSAC West. In 2020, The Rock will strive to improve upon last season’s finish, as seven starters to the lineup. An important building block of a playoff-caliber team, coach Rice spoke about how important it is to have veteran players on the roster.

“Experience is everything,” Rice emphasized. “Not just in leadership roles, but in how to handle certain game situations before, when you’ve been there before, it’s a lot easier.”

Experience starts with the senior class, as Slippery Rock’s lone senior Alexa Guglielmino will lock down the outfield after starting all 45 games a season ago. Guglielmino finished last year with a .241 batting average and recorded four outfield assists which was tied for most on the team. The outfielder brings some needed offensive firepower as she recorded a homerun, three triples, two doubles, 11 RBI and a team-high of 29 runs scored in 2019.

The junior class features five players who had a significant impact for the team last season, including Camie Shumaker, Aubrey Allen, Caitlyn Arico, Becca Roesch and Leah Vith.

Shumaker put together an excellent 2019 season, establishing herself as one of the PSAC’s premiere pitchers. She recorded 18 complete games (third-most in the PSAC) and 45 strikeouts (fourth-most in the PSAC). Shumaker completed her sophomore season after pitching 162.1 innings, recording 13 wins, 181 strikeouts and posting an impressive 2.50 ERA.

Roesch served as a staple of the infield last season, starting 39 games at third base. She recorded a team-high nine doubles and drew the fourth-most walks on the team a season ago (12).

Allen took a big step last season, making 27 appearances and 19 starts in left field. She finished her 2019 campaign with a .662 OPS and a .379 OBP.

Arico joins a talented junior class after an impressive high school career in which she lettered in each of her four years at Elizabeth Forward High School.

The deep and talented junior class has taken a blow recently however, as Vith will be sidelined indefinitely after suffering a broken hand recently.

Even with the loss of the talented catcher for the foreseeable future, Rice continues to expect big things from her juniors as the 2020 season unfolds.

“I expect most of my juniors to have a huge role this season,” Rice said. “My expectation is that the junior class usually tends to be the class that explodes, I expect to see great things out of them. I expect that the upperclassman mentality will help lead this team and drive us.”

Moving on to the underclassman, Slippery Rock softball has an uncharacteristic group of sophomores, as a majority had turned in significant playing time last season.

As a freshman in 2019, Maggie Moore was one of four players to start all 45 games for The Green and White. Moore amassed a .270 batting average, belted three home runs and was second on the team with 26 RBI.

Regan Hozak appeared in 26 games and made 19 starts in left field, while Chloe Sharman appeared in 23 games and started 13 as a pitcher a season ago for the Green and White.

To round out the sophomore class, Sara Mikulec figures to compete for playing team after not appearing in 2019 as a freshman.

Even though The Rock possesses a relatively experienced roster, the team is also very young, as seven freshmen join the roster for the 2020 season. As The Green and White continue to fight injuries as well as filling holes left by graduated seniors, Rice is excited to see how her dynamic roster meshes, but also expects some growing pains along the way.

“We have some experience, but at the same time we have a ton of youth too, so it’s a really good mix,” Rice emphasized. “Although we have a lot of returners, we have a lot of areas that we are young in and we’re going to need a few of those people to step into those roles that we no longer have senior leadership in.”

Even when the freshmen aren’t in the game, Rice is pleased with her newest recruits’ potential and will to learn.

“A lot of them are like sponges, they’re just learning and growing,” Rice said. “It’s fun to work with kids who want to be there, who desire and love the game. It’ll be interesting to see where they find their roles this season, but we have a lot of talent in that group.”

With a rare blend of experience and youth, The Rock will have its work cut out for them. Outside of a strong PSAC schedule, the Green and White will undergo the rigors of a difficult 28 game non-conference schedule.

Slippery Rock’s 2020 opponents combined for a win percentage of .501 last season and four NCAA tournament berths.

The Rock’s schedule may be tough, but Rice is focused on her team and the little details that go into crafting a competitive team.

“This year we are really looking at the process, rather the product, keeping our milestones and our goals [short term].” Rice said. “If we’re able to do that, winning will take care of itself. We’re really going to focus on those little things and work as a cohesive unit.”

The Rock dropped its first two games of the season to an unfamiliar opponent in Newberry College, who currently sits at 14-2. However, with over 40 games left on their slate, The Rock will have plenty of chances to turn heads in the PSAC West this season.

Rice and her team will travel to Petersburg, VA where they will take on Virginia State University in a four-game series. The first pitch of the series is slated for 12:00 p.m. on Saturday.

Zack is a senior digital media production major and entering his first year on The Rocket staff, serving as assistant sports editor. Since a young age, Zack knew that his career would involve athletics in one way or another. After graduation, he hopes to work in the industry of sports broadcasting.

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