Season Preview: High expectations for young Blue Streaks softball squad

February 28th, 2013

For a young, talented JCU softball team that advanced to the NCAA Division III Regionals last year, the 2013 season holds much excitement and promise. Though the Blue Streaks graduated five seniors, many of whom were starters, John Carroll has a wealth of young talent on its roster.

JCU head coach Erin Brooks has the softball program headed in the right direction. In 2011, the Blue Streaks secured a share of the OAC softball regular season title for the first time in program history. In 2012, JCU reached the NCAA Division III Regionals, the farthest NCAA Tournament run in the program’s history. But Brooks has not set any overarching goals for 2013. The seventh-year head coach instead wants her team to carry a day-by-day mentality into the season.

Catcher Mackenzie Griffin, the lone senior on the roster, agrees with the philosophy. “Day after day, you need to focus on where you are then, and don’t look too far ahead, because you need to play every day in order to get to that goal.”

This mindset is perfect for the Blue Streaks, who face a grueling 40-game schedule, including 20 matchups within the ever-tough Ohio Athletic Conference. As is tradition for the Blue Streaks, the season will start in early March at the National Training Center tournament in Florida. The trip will be critical in evaluating a young roster. “We do a lot of rotating: there’s no set line-up when we’re down there,” Brooks said. “I start to solidify some positions by the end of the week, from what I’ve seen, but I do give everybody the opportunity to show me what they’ve got.”

In order to get through the long season and make a significant playoff run, a number of Blue Streaks will need to step up. Stellar seasons from Griffin, junior Colleen Brady, junior Samantha Becker and  junior Trisha Pike will be especially crucial for JCU. But, while these four players are particularly important to JCU’s success, “All 19 [players] are very key,” Brooks said. “Our success is going to rely on all 19 of us.”

Starting with the team’s pitchers, Pike will be heavily relied upon in 2013. She saw significant time on the mound last season, accruing an 8-7 record and 5.12 ERA. “It is going to be important that Trisha steps up this year and takes on that [top] role,” Brooks said. Another player who will see increased time on the mound is Rachel Byrnes. She did not pitch a lot as a freshman, but will see significant innings this season.

Griffin will hold down the catcher spot again this season. She did well at the position in 2012, hitting for a .319 average and knocking in 22 runs. “[She] definitely has a big job in front of her. I absolutely think that she, for one, can step up and take that responsibility.” Brooks stated.

In the infield, only one full-time starter returns in Samantha Becker. The junior middle infielder will play a key role, especially on offense. Becker led John Carroll last season in batting average (.357), at bats (157), hits (56) and home runs (5). Junior Angelia Locey, who saw significant time last season, will also look to snag a spot in the lineup for the Blue Streaks this season.

Brady leads this year’s stable of outfielders. She racked up a .287 batting average and drove in 20 runs last year. Morgan Robinson will look to become a key cog of JCU’s offensive machine. She batted .244 in 82 at bats in her sophomore campaign. Junior Nicole Fluharty also hopes to see more time this year.

As a whole, the Blue Streaks have a great deal of young talent. Anyone can easily come out of nowhere and have a breakout year. The Blue and Gold have a roster stockpiled with many talented players.

“I have a lot of confidence in them, and I’m really looking forward to how this year plays out,” Brooks said.

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