Okay, so Amherst softball hasn’t really returned, yet. The grass is buried under about 20 inches of snow, and the women are stir-crazy from being cooped up in the Cage for weeks. Spring and the weather aren’t really cooperating with the Jeffs this year, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t more than ready to throw out the first pitch.
This year’s squad is primed and ready for their annual spring-break swing through Florida, even though they will play their first games outside before they get any serious practice in the sun and open air.
Last year the name of the game was hitting. Relying on the big-swinging meat of the order to power them over opponents, the Jeffs finished their postseason run with a very respectable 22-8-1 record, including a scorching 8-1-1 streak to start the season.
Though the squad has lost many of those heavy hitters to graduation, including team leader in batting average (.387) and RBIs (27) Darcy Sweeney ’00, things hardly look bleak for the Jeffs.
This year, execution and sacrifice will be keys for the Amherst offense. Base hits and moving runners around will bring the wins. Co-captain Carline Kelly ’01 and Missy Mordy ’03 will look to fill those big shoes left empty by the departing sluggers, taking their place at the top of the lineup. Following them will most likely be Co-captain and solid hitter Meg Nelson ’01. As a junior, Nelson was a big contributor as she batted .286 and had 15 RBIs.
“Our bats are starting to come around and everyone is getting used to their roles. A few of us are adapting to new positions, but since we have had the opportunity to scrimmage four times, and have also had intra-squad scrimmages, everyone seems comfortable and confident,” said Nelson.
The defense this year will have to be stingy if it is going to compensate for the decreased run production and altered style of offense that the Jeffs are expecting to play.
Solid pitching will be pivotal this season and will keep the squad in every game they play. At this position, experience is key, and fortunately there is no lack of it. Taking the mound this year for Amherst will be Lauren Peloquin ’02 and Emily Melia ’03.
Peloquin has been unstoppable throughout her college career and will hopefully continue her dominance into 2001. This former three-time NESCAC player of the week posted a record of 17-5, struck out 174 of 563 batters on the season and made opposing teams look like little leaguers with a wafer-thin 1.21 ERA.
Melia was no less effective. More than holding up her side of the mound, she fanned 24 batters, had five wins and only three losses in addition to posting a 2.18 ERA.
Calling the shots and comprising the other half of the battery for Amherst this year will be catcher Becca Binder ’02, along with fellow backstop Erica Schmeckpeper ’03.
The rest of the defense is more than up to the challenge. Risking life and limb at third base will be Mordy, a position at which she had an outstanding .874 fielding percentage last season.
Shortstop this year will be former centerfielder Shari Sakamoto ’01. Sakamoto’s quickness and fielding ability will allow her to strongly anchor the Jeff infield from the five spot. Across the bag from her will be second baseman Kelly, whose experience at that position will certainly be utilized to the fullest as she will be looked to as the “veteran” of the infield. First base will be manned by surprise offensive threat and newcomer Gina Scribner ’04.
Nelson will be running the show in the outfield for the Jeffs this season from left field. Her experience will be vital as she is joined by two younger players in center and right. First-year player Erin Dittus ’03 will see some action in the outfield and the third spot will be filled by Tamara Baer ’03, Jenna Obelsky ’03 and Della Huff ’04.
The Jeffs will take their show on the road next week as they travel to Fort Myers, Fla. to play what will end up being a third of their season. They will start out by taking on NESCAC rival Hamilton College.
Upon their return, Amherst will open its home season by hosting Brandeis Universtiy on March 27. They will then begin a five-game stint against NESCAC opponents that will last through May 2, during which they will take on Bowdoin College, Trinity College, Tufts University, Wesleyan University and Middlebury College.