BRIDGEWATER – The Bridgewater College softball team is looking forward to proving the naysayers wrong during the upcoming season.
After posting a 10-28 record and a 3-17 mark in ODAC play during the 2017 season, the Eagles were picked 10th in 2018 ODAC Coaches' Preseason Poll.
The final team numbers of a .253 batting average, a 4.54 ERA and a .945 fielding percentage will certainly need to improve if the Eagles expect to make an upward move in the standings. A solid group of returning players along with a promising group of first-year players has the Eagles looking ahead to the season with a sense of optimism.
"I think being picked 10th is certainly motivating," said Eagles' head coach Lis Schulz who is entering her third season at the helm of the program. "The girls have a really positive outlook as we're getting ready for the season to start. This group has been down near the bottom for a couple of years and they're not going to accept being down there again."
Talley returns as one of the top outfielders in the conference and should once again bat leadoff for the Eagles. A second-team All-ODAC pick in 2017, Talley ranked 19th in the conference in hitting with a .374 average. Talley has 74 base hits in her first two seasons at Bridgewater.
Guard, a first-team All-ODAC and third team all-region selection, led the Eagles with a .402 average to rank 13th in the conference. Her five homers and 10 doubles both ranked among the Top 10 marks in the ODAC. Guard's .654 slugging percentage ranked sixth in the conference.
Competition is strong for the corner outfield spots. Katie Merhout appears to have the inside track in right. The sophomore hit .230 in 27 games a year ago. "Katie is a good outfielder and she tracks the ball better than anyone we have in right field," said Schulz.
Returnee Carlita Tibbs is vying for time in left along with fellow returnee Allison Patrick and newcomers Morgan Landes and Marlee Carroll. Tibbs saw action in 36 games and hit for a .253 average while Patrick hit .292 in limited time. Newcomers Landes and Carroll add the element of speed to the Eagles' defense and lineup.
The Eagles also return experience around the infield, but several newcomers are also vying for time.
If Guard is penciled in at the DH spot, Stephanie Carroll could get the nod at third. "Stephanie is a good defender with good reactions," said Schulz. "She's made some changes at the plate in order to become a more consistent hitter."
Senior Ryan Kirtner is back at shortstop. "She's very good defensively and has amazing range," praised Schulz. Two first-year players – Taylor Novak and Ryann Crennan – could also see time at shortstop.
Returning players Hannah Nyquist and Victoria Gontarz are competing for time as second base with newcomer Sydney Layman. Schulz has several options at first base, including returnees Jessica Dawson, Anna Patterson and Courtney Maitland along with first-year players Haley Haun and Brianna Whorley.
Behind the dish, Lauren Wilson is back as the lone experienced catcher. Mariah Wharton is making the transition from infielder to catcher and Crennan is also in the mix. "Mariah and Ryann are both working hard back there and that's going to improve our depth at the position," Schulz said.
In the circle, the Eagles return four pitchers and have added two new arms. Brooke Louden, a sophomore who won four games as a freshman and led the team in innings pitched, returns to anchor the staff. "Brooke has looked strong in the preseason and with a year of experience, she should have a good season," said Schulz.
First-year pitcher Keirsten Kennedy should bolster the staff. Kennedy possesses "good velocity and movement."
"Defensively, I think we can be strong," said Schulz. "The girls are playing with a lot more confidence on defense and our pitching should be improved. On offense we have been focusing on making more contact and putting the ball in play. We need to have a more solid, consistent lineup."
The team has its sights set on returning to the ODAC tournament at the end of the year.
"Make the playoffs, get back to the tournament. That's one of our goals," Schulz said.
The Eagles open their season with a pair of home doubleheaders before playing 10 games in Florida on their spring break trip.
"I think those games set the tone for the season," said Schulz. "Getting off to a strong start is very important. We're playing teams we can compete with. If we play the way we're capable of playing we'll be fine. We want to build some confidence and momentum that we can carry forward into our conference schedule."
Bridgewater opens its season on Feb. 24 when the Eagles host Penn State-Altoona for a doubleheader.