Merrimack softball battles Adelphi/LIU Post to commence 2013
NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – Looking to return to postseason under the guidance of first-year head coach Jim Cardello, the Merrimack softball team commences the 2013 season with two games on Long Island this weekend, as the Warriors face Northeast-10 Conference foe Adelphi before battling LIU Post on Sunday morning. Both contests will be played on the Panthers' home diamond at Janet L. Ficke Field in Garden City, N.Y., with first pitch slated for 11 a.m.
After advancing all the way to the NCAA Super Regionals in the spring of 2011, Merrimack will be looking to improve on last year's 19-23 campaign that saw them miss a berth in the NE-10 Championships by four games.
The Navy and Gold should be primed for a bounce-back campaign knowing that they return nearly all components of their lineup from last year, including the top offensive threats in senior Tawny Palmieri (Peabody, Mass.) and junior Allison Berthiaume (Berkley, Mass.). Meanwhile, senior righty Kelli Jo Deardorff (Bedford, Mass.) – the 2011 Northeast-10 Conference Pitcher of the Year and All-League First Team honoree – will return to handle the bulk of work in the circle.
Merrimack was pegged to finish in fourth place in the newly configured Northeast Division according to the Preseason Coaches' Poll, good enough in theory to qualify for the league playoffs. New to this year's championship format, the top four teams in each division will qualify for the single-elimination, eight-team postseason, meaning if the Warriors' season plays out as predicted by the preseason rankings, a playoff berth should be within reach.
Lack of experience will not be an issue on the 2013 squad, as all but one position on the diamond will see last year's starter back in action this spring. In the infield, Palmieri will handle her native duties at shortstop; the one-time all-region second team honoree started 41-of-42 games at short last spring and posted the second-best average among all qualifiers, finishing with a .371 mark at the dish on a team-leading 52 hits and 12 homers.
At first, senior Curran Hubbard (Laconia, N.H.) returns after making 38 starts there last season, and to her right likely will be junior Ashley Perry (Winchendon, Mass.), who was the regular at second base last spring, along with Berthiaume, who made eight starts there, as well. Finally, rounding out the veteran-laden infield will likely be junior Keaira Monet Perry (Bellingham, Mass.), who notched 29 starts at third last year and ranked fourth on the team with a .307 batting average while driving in 22 RBI, the second-highest amount among all Warriors.
Serving as the team's primary designated player last year, junior Jaclyn Giovannini (Plano, Texas) also ranks among the top offensive returners after posting an even .300 average at the plate in 2012. The 28-game starter finished with eight doubles – tied for the team lead – and 19 RBI, and also made two starts at first base, as well.
Moving to outfield, the Warriors will look to fill the void in center left by 2012 graduate Monique Gosselin, who made all 42 starts there last spring. Juniors Jessica Fugazzotto (Newton, Mass.) and Nicole LoPilato (Medford, Mass.) could be candidates after holding starting roles in left and right field, respectively, last year, while returners Stephanie Lapierre (Berlin, Conn.), Helen Gillis (Cape Elizabeth, Maine), and Courtney Ulak (Rehoboth, Mass.) will contend for more playing time this spring, as well.
Behind the dish, Merrimack boasts the return of regulars Jennifer Post (Orange, Conn.) and Lindsay Gibbs (Acton, Mass.), as the sophomore duo handled all but two starts at catcher last season. The return of redshirt freshman Becca Armstrong (Methuen, Mass.), who was forced out of action due to injury after three games in 2012, should intensify the competition for the primary catching duties.
Meanwhile, Deardorff will look to improve upon an 11-win campaign in 2012. The Bedford, Mass., native limited opponents to just a .261 average against her while posting an ERA of 3.34. The right-hander struck out 100 while walking just 67 over 142.2 innings, but was vulnerable to the long ball, surrendering 29 homers last season, as well. Classmate Alie Thomas (Bedford, N.H.), along with sophomore Valerie Bauer (Salem, N.H.) and freshman Alexis Perry (Westford, Vt.) will comprise the Warrior pitching staff that features four righties in the fold.
The Warriors will open the year against an Adelphi squad that finished 35-20-1 in 2012 en route to making appearances in the Northeast-10 Championships and the NCAA East Regional Tournament. Emily Dorko represents the top returner at the plate after batting .405 with a team-best 42 runs and an eye-popping 35 stolen bases last spring. Classmate Devon Kelly also returns representing the top hurler from 2012; she posted a side-best 1.82 ERA while going 16-7 in 26 starts in the circle in 2012.
After the conclusion of the Merrimack-Adelphi contest, the Warriors will battle LIU Post to round out the day. The game will be the first action for a Pioneer squad that went 37-22 last spring and also qualified for the NCAA East Regional Tournament. Juniors Alexis Gonzalez and Nicole Hagenah finished the year batting above .370 and each combined for over 100 hits and over 90 RBI, while right-handers Liz Weber and Megan Salcido return after posting ERAs of 2.13 and 2.00, respectively, in 2012.
After this weekend, the Warriors will travel to Queens (N.Y.) for a doubleheader on March 10 before returning to NE-10 play at Saint Rose (March 16) and UMass Lowell (March 19). Then, the Warriors will embark on their annual trip to Florida from March 21-25, and finally will return to North Andover to host the River Hawks on Wednesday, March 27, to open their home slate at the end of the month.