Softball to spend most of season on road
Team to have only a five-game homestand as they try to improve on .500 GLIAC record
February 26, 2007 —
There is some good news for this year's softball team, but there's also some bad news.
The good news is that the Cardinals have a five-game homestand during a crucial stretch in their GLIAC schedule. The bad news is that by the time they reach that point, they will have traveled. A lot.
"We were joking at one of our division meetings, and we had a contest. One of my questions was how far we will have traveled before our first home game," says interim head coach Bill Graham. "I Googled it, and it's over 4,000 miles. It will be a nice walk across the street when we finally play here."
It's not completely bad news, because the Cardinals start their season Saturday, March 3 in Ft. Myers, Florida, and will stay in the Sunshine State until March 10. When it's all said and done, though, they will have played their first 29 games away from home.
Graham is quick to point out that home field advantage in softball is not equal to other sports such as football and basketball because of the nature of doubleheaders. Getting away from home may not be such a bad thing, either, he adds.
"We're all tired of looking at the same faces and the four walls and the ceiling," he says. "Seeing some grass and dirt and having the sun beat down on us should invigorate us."
The Cardinals head to Florida for spring break every year, so the team will not be looking at it as a vacation.
"We have a tough schedule, but it's not overpowering," Graham says. "We're not just going to show up and get a sun tan. We're going to go down there and play."
In Florida, SVSU will play two teams in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association's Preseason Top 25 Poll (No. 6 North Georgia College and State and No. 13 C.W. Post) and two other teams listed in the "Others receiving votes" category. The Cardinals also play No. 5 Southern Illinois-Edwardsville during a trip to Illinois in the middle of March.
The trip will also be a good barometer of how this year's team will perform during the GLIAC season, Graham says.
"It's going to be a good measuring stick of where we are at that point, and it's all to get ready to play our conference games," he says.
The measuring stick will be especially important this year, because the Cardinals have just one senior (leftfielder and pitcher Lorelea Rice) and two juniors on their 18-player roster. This year's team features eight sophomores, most of whom saw significant playing time a year ago, and seven freshmen who will see the field, as well.
Rice will be the leader, though, especially in Florida.
"She always gets out to a strong start in Florida," Graham says. "She's a good Florida hitter for us, and it'd be nice to see her do that again."
Additionally, the Cardinals will know what they are getting from the senior game in and game out.
"She's someone who you know is going to bring it every game, whether she's pitching or playing left field," Graham explains. "She seems very relaxed this year and excited about the season. She's looking forward to it."
Rice hit .275 a year ago and was third on the team in hits, with 44. She scored the second most runs on the team, too, with 25, hitting out of the two-hole. She spent most of her time in left field, but started six games on the mound and appeared in eight more. She went 2-1 with a 1.93 ERA.
The senior will be in the top three of the Cards' rotation, which will also be anchored by sophomore Stacy Kraatz and freshman Kari Bowlby.
Kraatz went 5-10 a year ago, posting a 2.79 ERA in 16 starts and five other appearances. She struck out 94 batters in 105.1 innings and walked just 18, and threw eight complete games. She will have to pick up most of the slack for the departed Karen Ray, who went 10-17 last year with a 2.13 ERA and 163 strikeouts in 164.1 innings.
The sophomore, who played first base when she wasn't pitching, was also productive with the bat, leading the team with a .319 average, 51 hits, six home runs, and a .500 slugging percentage.
"Stacy's stats speak for themselves," Graham says.
Graham figures Bowlby to be the Cardinals' probable number two starter. An inch or two short of six feet, the freshman throws in the high 50s to low 60s and has late movement, Graham says.
"She had a tremendous fall, and we're looking for her to do well in the spring, and I think she will," he adds.
Kraatz is one of five sophomores that will be in the starting lineup almost every game.
"They are young, but the good news is that a lot of the sophomores played last year as freshmen. It's not as if they sat behind a lot of upperclassmen," Graham says. "I believe they are pretty talented. We were very happy with the way they performed last year."
Catcher Jessica Anhel was second on the team with a .305 average, five homers, and a .482 slugging percentage. She led the team with 24 RBIs.
Nicole Fick will start at shortstop again this year. A year ago, she started all 54 games for the Cardinals, but batted .185. She also committed 25 errors.
But Graham says Fick is having an excellent spring hitting and has improved defensively, "and that's saying something, because I think she's a pretty good defensive player. She had a lot of errors last year, but a lot of them were balls that she got to that maybe sometimes others wouldn't get to."
Fick will be joined on the left side of the infield by Marsha Beaubien, who played in 32 games last year and started 17. She batted .145, but Graham likes what she brings to the Cardinals.
"She's a strong athlete, one of the best on our team in terms of pure athletic skills," he says. "She can run, she has a nice arm, she's strong. She just needs to find a little consistency."
Finally, sophomore Vanessa Briggs will take over duties at second base. A transfer from Ferris State that Graham and last year's coach Sabrina Lane recruited out of Freeland, Briggs is adjusting to her new position. Fellow sophomore Mallory Miller will also see time at second and pitch occasionally.
Miller made just six appearances a year ago, but pitched a complete game shutout in Florida and picked up a save.
"She pitched well at a lot of big times for us last year," Graham says. "She's not going to overpower anybody, but she doesn't walk anybody and gets out."
Two freshmen will try to replace the departed Monica Sims, the Cardinals' leadoff hitter and centerfielder last year. Sims batted .282, scored a team-high 30 runs, and hit 10 doubles, the most on the team.
Billi Hoeppner, from Hemlock, and Angela Kaiser, from Waterford, will split time in center. Both are left-handed and bring the similar speed that Sims possessed.
"I'm excited what they're bringing to the program," Graham says. "That speed is something you can put at the top or the bottom, and it's definitely going to help the rest of the team produce."
SVSU was picked seventh in the GLIAC Preseason Coaches' Poll, which is where Graham "probably thought we would be." The Cardinals went 10-10 in the conference a year ago, which gave them the eighth and final seed in the conference tournament. Graham feels the team can improve on that spot, though.
"By the end of the season I can see us in the top four or five," says Graham, who lists Wayne State, Ashland, Gannon as the top three. "Those next five spots should be pretty even."
The Cardinals will know early how much of a chance they have in the conference. They begin their GLIAC schedule on the road in Ohio, playing Ashland, which finished 14-6 in the conference last year, and Findlay, 5-15 a year ago. SVSU then hosts Mercyhurst, 5-15 last year, and Gannon, ranked 16th in the NFCA Preseason Poll.
"We're going to play a couple teams near the top and a couple near the bottom, so we should be able to find out where we are in those first four games."
The conference's level of competition is clear when considering that in an 11-team conference, a team with a .500 conference record was the final seed in the tournament.
"The GLIAC is a tough softball conference," Graham says. "Every team has a pitcher who on a certain day can shut you out. The pitching is spread out around the conference and is that good. You have to show up every day, play hard, and compete."