Feb. 11, 2011
Health and pitching. For every softball team, these two factors, above all others, are crucial to success. Granted, teams can overcome a lack of one or the other but it is very difficult to win championships without both. For Loyola Marymount in 2011, healthy players and good pitching will mean the difference between the program's fourth Pacific Coast Softball Conference championship in the last nine years or being left out of the postseason for the fourth successive season.
"I believe that we have the talent every year to win the Pacific Coast Softball Conference," Head Coach Gary Ferrin said as he enters his 17th season leading the Lions. "We have been derailed in recent years from that goal by injuries, especially to our pitchers. When you don't have healthy pitching, it doesn't matter how good your offense is."
The other PCSC coaches seem to think that Ferrin's charges will bounce back, picking the Lions as co-favorites for the overall conference title in the preseason poll. In order to accomplish that, however, the Lions will have to put together a full season with a full complement of players available to them. Last season, LMU got off to a 4-0 start in PCSC play and was looking to be on its way to its fourth conference crown at 9-3 but injuries caught up to the Lions and they dropped their final eight contests and finished at 22-26 overall, the program's second consecutive losing season. The good news for Ferrin is that he brings back seven field starters and three pitchers from that squad, all of whom are finally healthy after battling an assortment of ailments last season.
"Our offensive numbers are always at or near the top of the PCSC," Ferrin observed. "With three pitchers coming back and the addition of two more, I feel that we have one of the best staffs in the conference and could go 3-4 pitchers deep on any given weekend. That will give us a tremendous advantage and also help in case of injury because the probability of having healthy pitchers available to us goes up with the more pitchers we have at our disposal."
Headlining the returning pitchers are junior Corie Goodman and sophomore Molly Medeiros. Goodman was a 13-game winner two seasons ago as a freshman but injury limited her to just 12 appearances last year. As she returns to health, Ferrin knows what Goodman is capable of but classifies her as an unknown.
"Corie has shown her phenomenal potential but injuries have hampered her progress," Ferrin said. "The question you always have when someone is coming back is how strong they will be mentally. Corie showed outstanding mental toughness last year when she volunteered to burn her year of eligibility to step in when we needed her down the stretch. She could and should put up good numbers this year."
As Goodman and departed senior Melissa Dykema battled injuries last year, Medeiros emerged to win eight games, including posting a 4-3 record in conference. As someone who wants to pitch in any situation, Medeiros' tenacity and attitude are exactly what the Lions need when the going gets tough.
"Molly is our bulldog; she wants the ball all the time," Ferrin said. "Her outlook and willingness to help the team make her valuable as a starter or coming on in relief. She can be a difference maker in a tough role."
The Lions' third returning pitcher is sophomore Erica Grady, who made 10 appearances in 2010, mainly in relief. Ferrin sees her as another important part of LMU's pitching corps as she gives the opponent a different look than the other Lion pitchers.
"With Erica, we have someone who can consistently throw strikes," Ferrin said. "That helps in tough situations when you know you need to get outs."
As excited as Ferrin is about his returning hurlers, he is even more so about the two arms that the Lions have added. Sophomore Dana Waldusky landed at LMU over winter break after transferring from UC Davis. A 10-game winner for the Aggies in 2010, Waldusky immediately gives the Lions a front-line starter who has already become acclimated to college ball.
"I see Dana as the steal of the year. We recruited her when she was in travel ball but it didn't work out so for her to arrive here solidifies our pitching staff," Ferrin said. "She is a potential #1 starter for any program because she is steady and will give consistent performances day-in and day-out."
The lone freshman pitcher on the staff is Stevie Goldstein, a First Team All-CIF selection in all four of her prep years at Aquinas High School in San Bernardino. Goldstein has the ability to be a top collegiate starter but has already been hampered by a back injury that makes her debut questionable. Ferrin is hoping that her preseason injury is not a harbinger of things to come.
"Stevie will make an incredible difference and her presence will lift us to new heights if she's able to stay healthy," Ferrin said. "If she's out there, I don't think there is a better pitching staff in the PCSC."
Offering support to the Lion pitchers will be a potent offense led by three All-PCSC infielders in shortstop Sam Fischer, second baseman Amy Charpentier, and first baseman Kelly Sarginson. Fischer, the 2010 PCSC Coastal Division co-Player of the Year, is coming off a 2010 season in which she set a new conference and school record with 16 home runs. Fischer is at the forefront of what should prove to be a potent Lion offense, having led the team in home runs, hitting (.376), hits (53), runs scored (38), doubles (13), RBI (38), slugging percentage (.809), walks (26), and on-base percentage (.479). As Ferrin tries to surround Fischer with more support, there is no reason to think that Fischer's numbers could not get even better.
"Sam is the wheel that gets the car going," Ferrin said. "She is a proven producer and we are hoping to take the pressure off of her with others being able to step up."
One of those supporting players is Sarginson, who should get a lot of good pitches to hit batting behind Fischer in the lineup. A two-time Second Team All-PCSC selection, Sarginson fell off from eight homers and 31 RBI in 2009 to five and 23 last year but increased her batting average by five points to .287. Now an upperclassman, Ferrin expects Sarginson to make the leap that many of his former players have between their sophomore and junior seasons.
"Kelly has put up good numbers but she is not where she expects herself to be," Ferrin said. "Hitting behind Sam, she will be expected to fill a hole and lift our entire offense as we force teams to pitch to her. Not to be overlooked, either, is how she has demonstratively improved her defense in her two years at LMU."
Speaking of defense, the Lions have one of the best in Charpentier, who committed just one error in 174 chances last year to help LMU set a team-record with a .969 fielding percentage. A three-time All-PCSC selection, Charpentier hit .294 in 2010 and is expected to add leadership as a team captain.
"Amy is the rock of our infield, if not of the whole team," Ferrin said. "She is our most vocal player and will do anything to win with her blue-collar work ethic. She always wants to do better and will inspire others to follow her lead."
With the trio of Fischer, Charpentier, and Sarginson anchoring the middle and right side of the infield, there will be opportunities for others to step up and contribute as well. In particular, Ferrin sees sophomores Olivia Alvarez and Skylar Segura, junior Brittany Pereda, and freshman Meghan Harman as important elements in the Lions' quest for a PCSC crown.
Alvarez hit .294 last year as a freshman but got just 17 at-bats as she played behind more veteran first basemen. After an excellent fall, Alvarez has forced her way into Ferrin's plans and he sees her as a vital cog.
"I expect Olivia to have a breakout year and she and Kelly will alternate as our starting first baseman and designated player," Ferrin said. "We need Olivia's bat in our lineup and she has certainly earned her playing time."
If having two power-hitting first baseman on the roster is an embarrassment of riches for Ferrin, his trio of players competing across the diamond supplies a treasure trove. Pereda and Segura platooned at the hot corner in 2010, with Pereda (.287, four HR, 16 RBI) providing the offense and Segura coming in as a late-inning defensive whiz. They will be pushed for time, though, with the arrival of Harman, who became the first player in Ferrin's tenure to be invited to the U.S. National Team tryouts.
"Meghan is as close to a five-tool player as I have ever had. She has a rifle for an arm and tremendous hand-eye coordination," Ferrin said. "Although I foresee Meghan being our starter at third, having players like Brittany and Skylar coming off the bench or pushing for the starting spot further demonstrates our depth. Even better is their positive attitude, which lifts others and makes the team better."
While Pereda is the Lions' first option off the bench as a pinch-hitter and Segura is a top defensive replacement, junior Kylie Ahlo occupies the speed role among the LMU reserves. The second baseman is a dangerous asset for the Lions, having scored 27 runs in the last two years, primarily as a pinch runner.
"Kylie is the best athlete on our team but is a positional nomad," Ferrin said. "Her defense is tremendous and her offense has improved, making it tough on the coaching staff not to use her."
Ferrin has five talented outfielders at his disposal, led by First Team All-PCSC right fielder Jennifer Nayudu. Nayudu is a textbook case of a player working hard in practice and biding her time behind veterans before snatching the spotlight herself when the time is right. A career .242 hitter her first two seasons, Nayudu batted .345 out of the nine hole last year and became just the ninth student-athlete in LMU history to earn Academic All-America honors. Now a senior co-captain, Ferrin is counting on Nayudu to inject her talent, leadership, and intelligence on her teammates.
"Jennifer has always had the tools and talent but last year she combined those with confidence in herself and the result was a break-out year," Ferrin said. "She is so knowledgeable of the game and speaks with intelligence, which makes her a valuable leader."
The Lions' have two other veteran outfielders in senior Priscilla Satete and sophomore Danielle Smith. Both bring different talents to LMU's potent offense as Satete provides a powerful bat while Smith, a Second Team All-Coastal Division selection last year, utilizes her speed to get on base and cause disruption.
"For as physically different as Priscilla and Danielle are, they are similar in that we need them to be consistent in order to be successful," Ferrin said. "When she's going well, Priscilla can be as good as anyone in the country. She's big, strong, and powerful. Danielle's speed in the outfield and on the bases is tremendous but we need her to have better production in the PCSC schedule."
Adding into the mix is a pair of newcomers who will look to supplant any of the veterans in the outfield. Freshman leftfielder Samantha Nelson (Vancouver, Wash.) combines speed (82-of-83 on steals in high school) with power (10 home runs her senior season) to bet a lethal force. Redshirt freshman Leilani Montalvo (Honolulu, Hawai'i) is coming off a pair of knee injuries but has impressed Ferrin with her athleticism and defensive play.
"Samantha comes to us from a highly-regarded high school team in Portland's Jesuit High School and has been part of success at every level. You can't discount the positive effect that has on herself and on others," Ferrin said. "It is unfortunate that Leilani has been set back by injury in her development. She may be a year away from being fully back to her old self but she definitely can contribute this season."
In keeping with the theme of how deep the 2011 Lions are, LMU has four catchers on its roster (five if you count Alvarez), all of whom are more than capable of picking up the slack left by the graduation of fifth-year senior Darcy Pagnini. Junior Stephanie Hughes and sophomore Jennifer Olivares are the veterans looking to increase their impact, although the duo has combined for just 30 collegiate at-bats. Pushing them for playing time are freshmen Kathryn Dutton and Lyndsay Flartey. Dutton was an All-CIF selection at San Diego's Rancho Bernardo High School while Flartey helped lead Camarillo High School to a league championship in 2008. In the fall season, Dutton has emerged as a leading candidate to start, although any of the others could fill in without a drop-off in performance.
"Kathryn is big, strong, and has a gun for an arm. The pitchers have shown themselves to be comfortable with her behind the plate," Ferrin said. "Stephanie and Jennifer have not had as many opportunities in the past but that doesn't mean they can't have an impact."
With all the team's talent and depth, Ferrin is perhaps most excited about his coaching staff, which now features four proven winners who can focus on each of the Lions' specific positions. Returning to the staff are volunteer coach Sara Webster and director of operations Danielle Kaminaka. An All-American pitcher and recent University of Michigan Hall of Fame inductee, Webster will handle the Lion pitchers. Kaminaka was the 2005 PCSC Player of the Year and still holds the school's career home run record. At their side are new additions Phil Bruder and Chelsie Tysdal. Another volunteer coach, Bruder brings over 40 years of personal hitting instruction which has seen him coach over 130 All-Americans and nine Olympians. Tysdal, who will serve as the team's graduate assistant coach, was the starting catcher on the Lions' 2007 PCSC title and NCAA Tournament team and is among the school's all-time leaders in home runs, slugging percentage, and runs batted in. While Bruder handles the Lion hitters, Tysdal will take charge of the deep catching corps.
"Phil and Sara offer our players so much in terms of their national-level experience that it is almost impossible not to listen to them and absorb everything they are saying," Ferrin said. "Danielle and Chelsie offer a more personal perspective, having been through the day-to-day of their own successful playing careers at LMU."
Yet again, Ferrin believes all the tools are in place for the Lions to win the PCSC and progress into the NCAA Tournament. However, with a difficult non-conference schedule that features six teams ranked in the preseason top-25, and the usual late-season grind of PCSC play, talent and skill sometimes take a backseat to those two pesky friends.
"You always play hard for who you have out on the field right now," Ferrin concluded. "But it's easier and more fun when you're healthy and have good pitching."
- GO LIONS -