The records from the previous two seasons would seemingly make any coach excited for the new campaign. In 2013, Hofstra set a program record with 46 victories en route to an appearance in the NCAA Tournament’s regional finals. That was the encore to 2012, when the Pride came within one win of the Women’s College World Series. Entering the new season, Hofstra returns 11 letter-winners and seven players who have been full-time starters in their careers.
But Head Coach Bill Edwards said he’s excited for 2014 not just because of the number of known quantities back in the fold, but also because of the opportunities that exist for new players to step up. With two-time All-America pitcher Olivia Galati lost to graduation after setting every major pitching record in program history, Hofstra will look for a pool of four hurlers to help Hofstra in its quest for a third consecutive Colonial Athletic Association championship.
“I’m really looking forward to this season because I have no idea how we’re going to be,” Edwards said. “We’re very strong up the middle and have good leadership. Our pitching staff has a lot of potential but we’re unproven. If we can reach our potential, we can have a very special team.”
Though a slew of new faces will compete for time in the pitching circle, Hofstra will have the benefit of two fifth-year seniors returning in center fielder Rachael Senatore and shortstop Becca Bigler. The Pride will boast a double-play combination with nine years of experience as Tori Rocha returns to anchor the second base job in her senior season. Hofstra is strong up the middle with 17 years of experience from the catcher, middle infield and center field spots.
Sophomores Caryn Bailey, Maggie Hawkins and Chloe Fitzgerald all earned spots on the CAA All-Rookie team in 2013 and will be expected to be everyday contributors again. Junior Erin Trippi, who caught every inning last season, is back and will look to again be a force behind the plate and a guide to a young pitching staff looking to continue the program’s successful history in a competitive conference.
Seven new players will also look to make their mark on a Hofstra team that enters Opening Day receiving votes in both the USA Today/NFCA and ESPN.com/ USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 national preseason polls.
Here is a position-by-position look at the Pride:
Galati accounted for more than 88 percent of Hofstra’s innings last season en route to leading all of Division I pitchers with 40 wins. Over four seasons, she posted a 129-34 record, 12 saves with a 1.29 ERA and 1,415 strikeouts. Replacing those numbers will not fall on any one individual, as Hofstra will look for a staff that includes two transfer, a freshman and an increased pitching role for Hawkins.
Morgan Lashley is the most experienced pitcher on the team, though she is also becoming acclimated to Hofstra after spending the previous two seasons at Army. Lashley was the MVP of the Patriot League Tournament last season, when she helped the Black Knights to a NCAA Tournament berth on the heels of a 29-14 record and six shutouts. She posted a 2.40 ERA and struck out 196 batters.
Though not as experienced as Lashley in the circle, Hawkins emerged as Hofstra’s surprise No. 2 pitcher when necessity prompted her to give pitching a try at the end of the 2013 regular season. Hawkins responded by going 3-0 in four appearances with a 0.53 ERA in 13 1/3 innings. With a full offseason and training camp, Edwards said Hawkins has the ability to make a huge impact.
Junior transfer Taylor Pirone also brings Division I experience. As a sophomore at Fordham last season, she went 2-1 in 14 appearances and tied for the team lead with two saves. Freshman Jessica Peslak will also be looking to pitch her way into the mix after an outstanding career for Livingston High School in which she went 72-10 with 803 strikeouts in 495 innings.
Trippi saw every pitch behind the plate last season and helped Galati craft a special season in which she earned second-team All-America honors. Now, the junior backstop will be charged with overseeing a talented-but-less-experienced quartet of pitchers who are looking to get to the next level. Trippi will be entrusted to report information to the coaching staff on the progress of Lashley, Hawkins, Pirone and Peslak and help them master command of their pitches.
The transition from designated player to full-time catcher last season didn’t hamper Trippi’s offensive production as the Lyndhurst, N.J. native batted .315 with five home runs, 46 RBIs and a .500 slugging percentage en route to earning first-team NFCA All-Northeast Region honors and a first-team CAA selection. Bailey, who was the team’s everyday right fielder and is expected to fill that role again this season, is the backup to Trippi and can slide to the catcher’s spot.
When not pitching, Hawkins could serve as the starting first baseman. In her rookie season, Hawkins was third on the team with a .335 average and a .397 on-base percentage. The Easton, Md. product also showed power with four home runs and a .532 slugging percentage.
In times when Hawkins is pitching or serving as the designated player, the Pride could move Pirone over to first. Freshman Lacey Clark can also give Hofstra flexibility in the infield and could compete for time at the position. Clark was a second-team All-New York State selection out of Victor high School last year.
Rocha has been the starting second baseman the last two seasons and key part of back-to-back CAA championship winners. As part of a veteran lineup, Rocha will be expected to provide leadership and build on her expanding body of knowledge. A two-time CAA All-Second team selection, Rocha batted .285 and scored 35 runs. She has also batted in multiple parts of the lineup to give Hofstra greater flexibility. Clark has also been working in practice at second base and could play in the spot.
Another familiar face rounds out the middle infield as Bigler returns for a fifth season. The Bainbridge, Pa. product was second on the team with 12 home runs. Bigler drove in 41 runs from a premium defensive position last season and has also been a key middle-of-the-order contributor on Hofstra’s consecutive title teams.
The position marks one of the few question marks as Hofstra will look to replace all-conference third baseman Jess Hirschbuhl. Sophomore Kim Smith, who hit three home runs in just 27 at-bats playing mostly as a pinch hitter last season, has been working to earn the job. The former Gatorade Softball Player of the Year in Delaware has been pushed in practice by freshman Michaela Transue. A former standout for Chenango Forks High School (N.Y.), Transue was a four-time Class B all-state selection.
Hofstra seemingly lost a major part of the lineup at the leadoff spot when Senatore was lost for all of 2013 due to an injury. But Fitzgerald took over the slap-hitting role and thrived at the top spot. Fitzgerald mostly played as the DP but could see extended time in left this season following the graduation of defensive standout D.J. Slugh. Fitzgerald gives Hofstra two speedy options with Senatore back in the fold for 2014, which can give Edwards the ability to break up the slap-hitters and spread the speed in the lineup, or opt for a concentration of burners near the top of the order. Senior Ashley Ainbinder is also back to provide a consistent, veteran presence in the outfield.
Senatore is back for her fifth season. In her last game action, in 2012, she earned first-team All-NFCA regional and All-CAA selections by tallying a Hofstra-leading .364 average with 71 hits, 38 runs scored and a .429 on-base percentage to help the Pride power their way to the NCAA Super Regionals. Senatore is a speed threat who went 12-for-14 in stolen base attempts as well as a sure-handed fielder with a good arm.
Bailey rocketed onto the Division I scene by leading Hofstra with a .360 average in starting all 59 games. A terrific power threat, Bailey finished fourth in the CAA with a .669 slugging percentage and led the league with 17 doubles while contributing nine home runs. A first-team All-NFCA region and first-team All-CAA honoree, she is again expected to anchor right field and bat in the middle of the lineup.
Fitzgerald was the team’s primary DP last season and could fill that role again in times when she is not playing the outfield. On days when Hawkins pitches, the Pride could also give her time in the DP slot to foster greater lineup flexibility. On the bench, Hofstra will again have late-game options with sophomore Alyssa Cuzzola back after serving as the squad’s primary pinch runner. Entering her junior season, Danielle Bitts can provide insurance against injury in the infield in her role as a utility player. Freshman Christie Sinacori has experience as a catcher for Wantagh High School.
A home doubleheader against LSU and matchups against six teams that qualified for last season’s NCAA Tournament highlight the 2014 Hofstra Softball schedule. The Pride will face five 40-win teams and two conference champions in the slate. In all, the 2014 opponents combined for an 891-835-3 record last season.
The new campaign starts on Feb. 14 with a five-game tournament hosted by Florida State. The Pride will oppose North Dakota State, FSU and Southern Mississippi. The second trip to Florida will come the next week when Hofstra plays another five-game tournament in the Tampa-based Leadoff Classic. A rematch of the 2012 NCAA Super Regionals between Hofstra and USF will take place on Feb. 21. The Bulls were 45-16 and are coming off a Big East title. The road doesn’t get easier the next day when the Pride faces Louisiana-Lafayette, which went 47-15 and nearly made it to the Women’s College World Series before falling in the supers.
Hofstra will make its last trip to the Sunshine State with a five-game tournament at Florida Gulf Coast starting on Feb. 28 with games against Eastern Michigan, FGCU, Bethune-Cookman and Michigan State. A five-team; three-day tournament will mark the Pride’s home opener with the Hofstra Invitational spanning March 14-17. It will include games versus Georgetown, Columbia, Fairfield and Hartford.
League play will start with a rematch of last season’s CAA title game when Hofstra faces James Madison in a three-game series in Harrisonburg, Va. from March 22-23. Both teams qualified for the NCAA Tournament last season with the Dukes earning an at-large bid.
Following a road doubleheader at Rutgers, Hofstra will head to Towson for a three-game conference series The Pride will also play Delaware in a three-game conference road series from April 19-20. Hofstra will host conference opponents UNC Wilmington and the College of Charleston while ending the regular season versus Drexel. The CAA Tournament is scheduled from May 7-9 with the highest seed hosting.