Season preview: Battles for playing time around diamond key for softball heading into 2014

Season preview: Battles for playing time around diamond key for softball heading into 2014

SALISBURY, Md. – For Salisbury University softball players no starting position is ever guaranteed, particularly in preseason practice. The 2014 preseason has been no exception to that rule with more fierce competition than ever.

"We're really testing some players to see where they would best fit in our program or where they can best help us and where they're the most comfortable," Head Coach Margie Knight said. "So we're still up in the air with several positions. But that's good, because they're battling really talented ball players."

With the graduation of seven seniors, all of whom contributed in key ways to the team's World Series run in 2013, the Sea Gulls will be looking to a core of young talent to lead the way this season, with a line-up card that may be fluid, with changes throughout the season, in an attempt to find the perfect combination.

Infield

Salisbury heads into the 2014 season knowing two things about the infield, senior Harley Hill will be at first base and sophomore Katie Sebbane will be somewhere in the infield. The rest is up for grabs.

Hill returns for her fourth season as a starter at first, where she has batted .386 for her career having scored 103 runs over the past three seasons.

Sebanne, who came to Salisbury as a shortstop, played third base last season. With a great glove and perhaps a better arm, she posted a .935 fielding percentage at the hot corner. She will land in the infield, most likely at short or third.

"We're still battling out who's going be the starting infielders, but it's probably going to come down to Katie and Kim Dorsey to see who's (starting at shortstop)," Knight said. "Katie really knows the game extremely well, she makes very good decisions. Kim's a little faster, so we'll see. Both of them have great arms."

Dorsey, a sophomore, saw limited action in her first year, but has impressed in practice.

"Kim Dorsey has come back stronger and very confidence. She's hitting the ball extremely well, and she did that in the fall, as well," Knight said.

The others in the mix in the infield are sophomore Paige Knussman, and sophomore Molly Simpson.

Knussman, who saw time at third base last year, but was mostly in the lineup as the team's designated player, and came through with a .381 batting average, third on the team and drove in 22 runs.

Simpson is also battling for time at second base, after seeing action in seven games last year. 

The backstop position will see a new face this year, following the graduation of National Catcher of the Year Michelle Gravdahl, who was a mainstay for the past three seasons. Junior Rebecca Hoey and senior Virginia Walther are the top two candidates for playing time heading into the season.

Outfield

The most solidified position in the outfield is senior Angelia McDowell in left field. She grabbed the spot when she got the start in the regional championship game in 2012, going 2-for-2 against McDaniel College and making a pair of outstanding defensive plays. She's held the spot ever since, starting 44 of Salisbury's 46 games a year ago, batting .318.

Junior Angela Malgieri and sophomore Rachel Spadin are the early frontrunners, with senior Molly Gigioli, sophomore Alexis Peay and freshman Caitlin Lake pressing for time.

Malgieri played in 16 games last season, scoring four runs, while Spadin saw times in 13 contests, scoring five times. Gigioli played in 34 of the team's games, scoring 17 times and driving in three runs.

Peay, who played in 38 games last year primarily as a pinch runner, was just moved to the outfield, where her speed would be a big asset.

Lake is a freshman who Knight says brings a big stick and could see time because of her offensive prowess as she has been coming on strong near the end of the preseason.

Pitchers

Salisbury's pitching staff was one of the best in the country in 2013, finishing with a team ERA of 1.13 (fourth in the nation) and the Sea Gulls return their top two pitchers from last season, as senior Kat Larson and junior Rachel Johnson accounted for all but two of the teams innings in the circle.

A National Fastpitch Coaches Association First Team All-American, Johnson finished last season with a 29-3 record, and a 0.82 ERA, which ranked fifth in the country. She also ranked second in the nation in hits allowed per seven innings and strikeouts per seven inning. She will be working with a new catcher, but it's not something that concerns Knight.

"Becca (Hoey) and Rachel worked together in practice every day last year," Knight said. "I think it will be a really easy transition for Rachel to move with Becca as the catcher or Virginia, if that's the case."

Larson, who went 13-1 with a 1.73 ERA and three saves in her 24 appearances last year, is back having improved in the off-season, as well.

"Kat looks great," Knight said. "Her movement's better. She's picked up another couple miles per hour. She worked very hard over the fall."

Freshman Ashley Lesniewski will contend for time in the circle, bringing very good movement to her pitches, which will compliment Johnson and Larson.

Schedule

Salisbury opens the season this Saturday and Sunday at the Peace University Tournament in Raleigh, N.C., where the Sea Gulls will take on Neumann University, one of four 2013 NCAA tournament teams Salisbury will face.

The game against Neumann marks the first of seven contests against the NCAA tournament teams, including doubleheaders against Washington College (March 4), Virginia Wesleyan College (April 2).

"I think you're going to see us very tested by the time we get to our first conference game." Knight said.

The third doubleheader against a tournament team, and the only preseason ranked team on Salisbury's schedule, is also the Capital Athletic Conference season-opening doubleheader, when it will welcome No. 17 Christopher Newport University to the CAC.

Salisbury will play its first games at home on March 7 and 8, hosting the Sea Gull Classic at the Henry Parker Complex and will begin play at the SU Softball Field the next day, playing Lynchburg College in a doubleheader on March 9.

The ultimate goals for the season are a CAC championship (April 17-19), an NCAA tournament berth and a return trip to the NCAA World Series.

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