NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – After a slow start to the year with a challenging early season schedule against some of the best competition in the region, the Merrimack softball team rebounded in April to close out the year on a high note, and despite just missing a postseason berth, the Warriors posted a 20-win 2013 season that saw the emergence of several new, young stars.
Wrapping up the regular season with a 21-22-1 overall mark, the Warriors rebounded from a 5-9 start and posted a 16-12-1 record in April, highlighted by a five-game winning streak midway through the month. Merrimack swept its final three games of the year and finished tied for fourth in the Northeast Division, but due to the Northeast-10 Conference tiebreaker, the Warriors just missed qualifying for the playoffs.
"Though we missed our goal of returning this program to the postseason by a very slim margin, we are extremely excited about what we have returning and coming in," first-year head coach Jim Cardello summarized. "We have a talented group of returners entering their second year with our aggressive system and approach. Many of the returners embraced our style of play and it showed with significant increase in production throughout the season, resulting in career-highs in batting average and on-base percentage for many individuals."
Several of those stars came in the form of the junior class. First baseman Keaira Monet Perry (Bellingham, Mass.) ranked second on the squad in average (.374), RBI (26), and home runs (6), while left fielder Jessica Fugazzotto (Newton, Mass.) enjoyed her best year with the Navy and Gold, finishing third in average (.352) and ranked fourth in runs scored (18). Both were named to the NE-10 All-Conference Second and First Team, respectively.
Senior third baseman Tawny Palmieri (Peabody, Mass.) wrapped up a stellar three-year career with the program with a spot on the all-conference first team, and was also named an NFCA Third-Team All-American and earned spots on the Daktronics and NFCA All-East Region Teams, as well. The lefty led the Warriors with a .432 batting average, 54 hits, nine doubles, two triples, eight homers and 34 RBI, while also going 11-for-15 on the base paths and slugging a team-best .728 on the year.
Palmieri, along with four classmates, helped the Warriors surpass the 20-win plateau in their final year on campus. The Class of 2013 enjoyed a memorable 2011 season that saw the program advance to the Super Regions after a runner-up finish in the NE-10 Tournament.
Senior right-hander Kelli Jo Deardorff (Bedford, Mass.) cemented her spot as one of the top pitchers in program history with an impressive final season. The righty led the Warriors with 10 wins and pitched to the tune of a 3.18 ERA and added 84 strikeouts over 116 2/3 frames.
Cardello will turn to a solid nucleus of both upper and underclassmen next season that either enjoyed their best years yet with the program, or were certainly close.
"We expect to see a much more balanced strikeout-to-walk ratio throughout the lineup next year, as well as an increase in fielding percentage at key positions," Cardello noted. "We lost the best defensive third baseman in the region, in my opinion, so there will be strong competition to replace that on the defensive side of the ball."
But Deardorff was not alone in the circle this spring. The emergence of sophomore Valerie Bauer (Salem, N.H.) and freshman Alexis Perry (Westford, Vt.) certainly has the future of the pitching staff looking bright. The former enjoyed a solid sophomore campaign with a 6-2 record over 44 1/3 innings of work while striking out 41 and walking 18. Perry took little time to acclimate to the college game, as the rookie finished with four wins and a team-leading five saves over 89 innings. The Westford, Vt., native struck out 51 and walked 33, while both limited the opposition to a .243 and .254 batting average against, respectively.
"In the circle, losing two seniors and big contributors to our success not only last year but throughout their career is tough," Cardello mentioned. "But with our returners having contributed significantly this past spring, that will allow our incoming freshmen to learn at their pace and hopefully contribute just as quickly as they did."
The Warriors will bring starters back at eight spots across the diamond next spring. And with Cardello back at the helm for his second season on the bench, Merrimack will look to make greater strides toward a potential return to the playoffs.
This is the sixth installment of Merrimack's 2013 Spring Sports Recap Series.
May 22: Women's Crew
May 24: Track & Field
May 27: Tennis
May 29: Women's Golf
May 31: Women's Lacrosse
June 3: Softball
June 5: Men's Lacrosse
June 7: Baseball