Softball outscores opponents 42-6 in Fort Myers, Fla.

What is making the difference for Amherst this season? It seems to be a combination of work ethic, new bats and newly-inspired old bats in addition to the solid and cohesive defense that has been Amherst’s trademark over the past few years.

The Jeffs’ new attitude toward preparation showed from the get-go, as Amherst crushed Lesley University, 10-0, in the first game of the year. “We restructured our preseason to put more of an emphasis on live hitting,” said senior co-captain outfielder Greta Anderson. “This certainly paid off as we outscored opponents by about 30 runs.”

New talent also paid dividends as Amherst’s rookies wasted no time in making a difference at the plate. In her debut in the purple and white, rookie second baseman Ralina Shaw doubled and tripled, while classmate catcher-outfielder Elizabeth Neckes chipped in with a pair of singles en route to the win over Lesley.

Shaw has quickly established herself as one of the team’s premier power hitters. She had at least one extra-base hit in six of Amherst’s games and drove in all three runs in the team’s closest win, a 3-0 victory over Worcester State University on March 15. Shaw capped off the week with a solo home run in a 7-2 loss to Transylvania University; her batting average stands at .423, but even more impressive is her .885 slugging percentage. Speedy Neckes scattered singles throughout the week from the leadoff position, including three in the Jeffs’ win over Worcester State. Neckes is batting .321 on the season with three stolen bases on three attempts.

This pair of precocious hitters did not score all of Amherst’s runs on their own, however. A number of returning players came into the season with their bats on fire, most notably sophomore third baseman Caroline Polales and junior first baseman Laura Trigeiro.

“Shaw, Polales and Trigeiro have been rotating around the three, four and five spots,” said Anderson. “Polales and Shaw both hit for power and had numerous extra base hits and RBIs last week. Trigeiro consistently makes hard contact with the ball.”

Added junior pitcher Miya Warner ’06, “Between Ralina, Caroline and Laura we have an intimidating heart of the lineup this year.”

Polales scored hits in most of Amherst’s games, but her personal highlight came in the team’s 10-0 drubbing of Wilmington College, where she went 3-4 and missed hitting for the cycle by just a triple. Trigeiro, Amherst’s most consistent hitter of the past two seasons, continued to hit well, contributing at a number of key spots.

After a slight sophomore slump on offense, junior outfielder Rachel Hoerger managed a number of key hits for Amherst, most notably driving in a pair of runs in Amherst’s 8-0 win over Lasell College on March 18. Hoerger has the second-highest batting average on the team-.417-and has gotten on base in half of her plate appearances.

While the Jeffs traveled south with some doubt in their minds about the offense, the defense rest assured that star hurler Warner would be returning to the pitching rubber. Warner did not let the team down, and she returns to the cold weather with her arm still red-hot. The native Californian compiled a 4-0-1 record in the other sunny state while giving up no earned runs. Over 30 innings, Warner struck out 52 batters and held opponents to a .060 batting average.

Anderson attributed some of Warner’s success to the Jeffs’ offensive preparations. “[She] did most of the pitching for batting practice which had the unanticipated pay-off of Miya coming to Florida in top form,” said Anderson, who called Warner’s 0.00 ERA “a testament to her phenomonal pitching as well as to the solid defense on the team’s part.”

Pitchers Hilary Little ’07 and Samantha Miller ’08 acquitted themselves admirably from start to finish. Warner, Little and Miller combined to throw a no-hitter against Lesley in the first game of the week, while Little earned a win and Miller picked up the save a next day over Wilmington. Miller pitched a three-hit complete game against SUNY-Potsdam in her first collegiate start but took a 1-0 loss. In the final game of the week, Little and Miller put in a valiant effort but Transylvania overwhelmed Amherst. Little compiled a 1.40 ERA over 10 innings, while Miller gave up an average of 2.50 earned runs over 14 innings.

Another big difference in Amherst’s defense this year is the addition of experienced first-year catchers Neckes and Kelly King. “I was really impressed by the two rookie catchers,” said Warner, who has had the unenviable task of working with a new catcher every season. “They both called excellent games behind the plate and contributed offensively as well. We threw them into the fire and they did great.”

Despite a lack of action in the outfield, the catchers also served ably in right field alongside returners Hoerger in center and Anderson in left. “I may have gotten four balls hit to center over the entire eight games,” said Hoerger. However, she added that “in warmups, people looked good.”

Shaw joined the experienced infield of Polales at third, Annalise Rodli ’07 at shortstop and Trigeiro at first. Though it was the foursome’s first time together on dirt, they put in solid performances across the board. “I think the infield looked really good together,” said Hoerger. “I think people are working well together, backing each other up; people have made some great plays and the infield really meshed.”

Overall, the Jeffs let up only six runs over eight games, giving up two runs to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in a 2-2 tie, one to UMass-Boston in a 7-1 win, one to SUNY-Potsdam in a 1-0 loss and two to Transylvania in a 7-2 win. Two of the Jeffs’ three shutout victories were 10-0 blowouts.

Weather-permitting, Amherst hosts Clark University tomorrow afternoon at 4 p.m. before hosting Bates College for a non-conference Saturday afternoon doubleheader.