Feb. 4, 2008
VIDEO: Softball 2008 Season Preview
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Having tasted success in 2007, the Boilermaker softball team is yearning for more and on a larger scale. A Big Ten Tournament berth and postseason victories are an expectation for this squad, which longs to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.
Fifteen returning players and a handful of newcomers come together to make up a more mature and more seasoned team, one that third-year head coach Kim Maher sees making strides.
"First and foremost, our players have a willingness and a desire to be here," Maher said. "This team is no longer transitioning as a whole; they know what is expected and they know what our goals are. The talent and work ethic is there. We have good pitching, a solid defense and good hitting comprised of speed and power. The cohesion of the team is good, the players work hard, they support each other, they motivate and hold each other accountable. They understand that it is not just what you do between the white lines of the field that matters, it is the time off the field as well. We have players who know that you can't just show up at the beginning of the season and expect to go to regionals, which is our next big goal. I expect new people to step up and the people who made a great impact last year to come back even better. With all of the work and effort that everyone is putting in, there will be improvement.
"One of things that we are stressing to our team this year is that we have to compete like a championship team. Regardless of the opponent, whether they are in-state, out-of-state, top 10 or bottom 10, it comes down to us wanting to be there, wanting to compete, trusting in our abilities, executing and finding a way to win."
The 2008 squad is charged with the task of replacing four seniors, including three four-year starters, in pitcher Brooke Baker
, catcher Erika Peterson
and outfielders DaQueta Johnson
and Catherine Zaworski
. Baker tossed nearly 300 of Purdue's 434 innings on the mound, racking up 174 strikeouts. Peterson laid down a team-best 21 sacrifices, while being a defensive stalwart behind the plate. Zaworski supplied speed on the bases, while Johnson contributed to the team's power at the plate.
Despite the departure of the seniors, seven position starters return for the Boilermakers, including a strong infield corps. The addition of five newcomers will add to the team's depth and contribute to the program's overall improvement.
"Pitching is the No. 1 factor for our program right now," Maher said. "I see a stronger overall pitching staff. We have brought in players that know how to win, and our returning pitchers are more mature and experienced. Defensively, our middle infield is returning, and they will be tough. Our defense is returning with more confidence, knowing what each other's strengths are and what it is like to succeed. For us, it is going to start with pitching, then defense and we will score runs. We have a better hitting team, a better defensive team, and I feel overall our pitchers will be on the right page. This team has the ability to do great things individually and collectively."
On The Mound
The Boilermakers return two pitchers, junior Ashley DiDomenico and sophomore Sarah Killer, from the 2007 squad. DiDomenico posted a 7-14 mark, threw 13 complete games and struck out 43 in 26 appearances, while Killer saw limited action. Joining those two are junior Dana Alcocer and freshman Suzie Rzegocki. Alcocer was a junior college All-American at Pima Community College in Tucson, Ariz., while Rzegocki was the Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year and a high school All-American at Lemont High School in Lemont, Ill.
"Our pitchers complement each other, and their strength, both individually and collectively, is keeping batters off balance," Maher said. "Our two new pitchers, Suzie and Dana, have go-to pitches that are opposite each other, which will allow us to match up our pitching style with our opponents a little better. Both do a really good job of hitting their spots. The talent is there. Suzie and Dana know how to win and they are fierce competitors on the mound. They know how to play ball and throw their pitches, it is matter of them dealing with the transition of going to the next level.
"DiDomenico has added a year of Division I softball to her experience and has learned a new pitch. She is going to get her time in throwing at some of the bigger teams that may be a little overanxious at the plate because she is good at hitting her spots and making batters chase pitches. With Killer, she suffered a serious injury this fall and is just trying to get back into pitching shape. Killer has the tools to contribute, but needs to work on consistency."
In addition to new hurlers in the corps, the Boilermakers have a new pitching coach on board in 2008. Boo Gillette, a three-time All-Big Ten catcher at Wisconsin joined the staff in September and brings a different approach to the table.
"Coach Gillette brings energy and excitement to the program and has a willingness to find a way to communicate with her pitchers regardless of how they have been taught," Maher said. "Not only has she helped them with their pitches, I feel that she is teaching more of the game savvy on the catchers' end of it. I have seen a work ethic from our pitchers that I haven't seen before. They go out there every day wanting to learn something new and work hard to add to the success of this team."
Behind The Plate
With the departure of Peterson, three players are vying for the backstop position. Sophomore Jenna Alexander, who played outfield in 2007 while recovering from an ACL injury, is the heir apparent, but senior Tara Palmer and freshman Shelby Krammer also may see time behind the plate. Alexander hit .243 with 12 extra base hits in 2007, while Palmer worked mostly behind the scenes. Krammer was a two-sport athlete at Lafayette High School in Wildwood, Mo., garnering all-state honors in softball and track.
"I am excited about our catchers, but, at the same time, we are going to miss Erika Peterson, because defensively, she was one of the best," Maher said. "I am exited that we have Jenna back there. She took a little hiatus while recovering from her ACL, but she is working to get back into catcher's shape. No catcher on our team can compete with Jenna's arm. She also works well with the pitchers and is not afraid to tell the defense that they need to pick it up. Palmer has done a really good job this summer and fall of getting into shape, working on her defensive skills and offensively finding a way to get it done. Tara also has a very good working relationship with the pitchers. She needs to add more game experience to build on her confidence behind the plate.
"And last but not least, we have Shelby. She has the frame to be a catcher. She has good size, is strong and understands the game. She is a thinker and will work hard to get better. For Shelby, it is about getting comfortable in a new environment and growing and developing her freshman year. Right now all of our pitchers are throwing to all of the catchers. Each one is going to have to learn to catch each pitcher, learn what their strengths and weaknesses are and how to communicate with them. You never know what is going to happen, but I am confident our catching staff will work hard to get the job done."
At First Base
Three players will vie for the starting role at first base. Sophomore Kelsey Haupert saw action in 59 games last season, starting 46 at first base. Junior Katie Mitchell could see time at first base, third base or designated player, all positions she played a year ago. Sophomore Kaity Stratten rounds out the group after making the transition from outfield to infield.
Haupert hit .302 with 13 extra-base hits, including nine home runs, while drawing 27 walks in 2007. Mitchell garnered first team All-Big Ten and All-Mideast Region honors after batting .364 with a school record 54 runs, 54 RBI, 14 home runs and a .697 slugging percentage. Although Stratten saw action in just 12 games, she made an impact on the record books, launching a pinch hit grand slam against Valparaiso for her first collegiate hit.
"Kelsey provides leadership and excitement on the field," Maher said. "She finds a way to get her teammates up when we need to refocus. She is more familiar with the position this year and has done a better job defensively this fall. Her bat also has the potential to be a factor. Defensively, Mitchell is probably one of the best first basemen we have. She also provides a lot of power to our lineup. Based on last year, we could probably hit her anywhere in the top four spots in our lineup. Stratten's main role will be as a pinch hitter or designated player, but defensively she has been working out at first base and improving on her glove work."
At Second Base
Junior Kelly Miller, who started 38 games in 2007, looks to complete her first injury-free season while offering the team speed and determination. Sophomore Amy Butcher, who acted mostly as a pinch runner last season, is another possibility at second base along with junior transfer Liane Horiuchi, who comes to Purdue after two years at Tennessee.
Miller posted a .308 average last season, with 22 runs scored and nine stolen bases, but struggled with nagging injuries throughout the season. Butcher stole four bases and scored 15 runs a year ago. Horiuchi hit .238 during her career with the Lady Vols, stealing 23 bases and posting a .969 fielding percentage. She also launched five home runs and tallied 27 RBI.
"As a second baseman, Miller has great range and a good arm, but what sets her apart is her hustle," Maher said. "There is no ball she can't field. She is driven, she likes to push her teammates, and her expectations of herself and her teammates are very high. If Kelly can stay healthy, she is definitely going to help our team both defensively and offensively. Butcher has improved tremendously from last year and has been getting some reps at second base. Butcher also has made the transition from the right side of the plate to the left. Her range has improved and her glove work has improved, but one thing that is great about Butcher is that offensively she is fearless. She is an aggressive baserunner and is willing to make things happen and to take the extra bases.
"Liane has been getting time at second and at short. She is probably the best defensive player I have seen in a long time. She makes the most complicated plays look routine. She has a quick release, is very fluid and is intuitive defensively. Offensively, she provides a lot of power to our lineup and has great speed on the right side. If we had her in the lineup, we know she could swipe 25 to 30 bags. With Liane, it is a matter of whether she is going to be eligible to play after transferring. She is most likely going to be a redshirt for us this year, but it would give her a year to learn our philosophies."
Junior Candace Curtis is the incumbent at shortstop after starting 58 games there a year ago. Offensively, she posted a .281 average, including 17 extra bases hits, 16 sacrifice hits and nine stolen bases, while defensively, she led the Big Ten in assists. If eligible, Horiuchi also might see time at shortstop.
"Candace is a talented shortstop," Maher said. "She understands the game, she has increased her range, quickened her release and she communicates well with her fellow infielders. She has the ability to calm down the team when they may be a little stressed. She has a very good pulse on the team defensively. Offensively, she provides power and consistency to our lineup. Last year, she stepped up for us, and I expect more of that from Curtis this season."
Senior Ashley Hall started 63 games at third base in 2007, while leading the team with a .383 average and a school-record 36 stolen bases. The first team All-Big Ten, first team All-Region and third team Easton All-America selection also scored 48 runs, while tallying a school record 85 hits, including 13 for extra bases. The lefty had shoulder surgery over the summer ,and her success will be determined by health.
"Ashley has all of the tools to be an All-America third baseman, if only she can get her arm back in shape," Maher said. "She is incredibly quick both offensively and defensively. She has a great arm and is a player who wants the ball. She loves the game, is a competitor and will find a way to get it done. Offensively, she is a triple threat. She can lay down a bunt, she can slap and now she can hit for power consistently. The one thing that we would like to take more advantage of this year is her speed."
If Mitchell does not fill the spot at first or designated player, she may see time at third base. Maher said Mitchell did well in the role filling in for Hall during the fall season.
"Mitchell can get the job done," Maher said. "She is solid; it is just a matter of her being comfortable playing at third base and wanting the ball. Offensively, with Hall and Mitchell, they are going to supply speed and power to our lineup."
In The Outfield
Five players, including two returning starters, will battle to fill the three positions in the outfield. With the departure of Johnson and Zaworski, sophomore Ashley Barr and junior Christina Trauger are the veterans. Barr started 60 games in the outfield a year ago, 27 in left field and 33 in center, while Trauger started 23 contests, including 20 in center field and two in right. Barr hit .246, while scoring 27 runs, swiping 11 bases and laying down 13 sacrifices. Trauger posted a .200 average, including two doubles, 19 runs, eight RBI and two stolen bases.
"Barr has another year under her belt and is a more mature and confident hitter," Maher said. "Barr also has developed her power and is very similar to Ashley Hall when it comes to being a triple threat. She can drop a bunt down, slap and hit for power. She also has great range in the outfield and a consistent arm. We are hoping that she can do some damage on the bases this year. Defensively, Trauger is one of the best outfielders that we have. She has a good strong arm. There is no ball that Christina cannot catch. She would go through a fence to catch a ball for this team. Offensively, she has gotten more consistent at the plate. She realizes what her strengths are, and she is going to take advantage of those. She is another player that adds speed to our lineup. Both Barr and Trauger have impressed me over the fall with their work ethic and determination."
Junior Alicia Spack, who played 28 games at second base and six at designated player in 2007, is making the transition to the outfield, while sophomore Liz Allum, who saw action in three games as a pinch hitter last season, continues to improve. Also joining the mix is freshman Beth Cinadr, an EA Sports first team All-American who has led her teams to success on both the prep and summer ball circuits.
"Spack is making the transition from infield to outfield and has done well with that transition," Maher said. "She gets good jumps on balls, has a strong arm and good foot speed. She wants to play, and she wants to contribute to the success of this team. Offensively, Spack can provide a lot of power to our lineup and finds a way to have good long at-bats. She can work her way out of an 0-2 count to find a way to get on base. With another year under her belt, I know that she will contribute to our team.
"Liz saw very little game time defensively, but she has made progress and is solid in the outfield. Offensively, she has made strides. She is really supportive and probably will be a role player on this team and get some playing opportunities. Beth provides power and consistency to our lineup and being a natural lefty is a bonus to our lineup. Defensively, she has a consistent arm, but being a freshman she needs some work. Beth is the type of athlete that will develop and grow every year. She will contribute more offensively to our team at this point. I feel Beth has one of the best swings I've seen coaching and I am excited for her to start playing."
The Boilermakers' road to the regionals will not be an easy one as the team is slated to face 14 teams which received NCAA bids in 2007, including five of the 16 seeded teams and two that advanced to the Women's College World Series.
"I always want to play the best competition out there," Maher said. "For us to try and strengthen our program, we need to seek out better teams. Playing those teams will make us better as a team win, loss or tie, just by seeing how the other teams of a certain caliber compete. We are going to be facing teams that were in the College World Series, which is where we want to be. In order for us to get there, we need to know what it is going to take and what better way to figure it out than to play the teams that have been there.
"In the past, when our team has played Top 20 programs, we have played them very well. Our players know they can compete. Now it is a matter of taking our program to the next level and getting it into their minds that not only can we compete with those teams, we can beat them."
Purdue begins its season at the Hampton Inn Bama Bash in Tuscaloosa, Ala., where it will face tough competition right out of the gates in the form of WCWS competitor Alabama. From there, the team travels to Waco, Texas, to play in the Getterman Classic, where NCAA competitor Baylor awaits. The Pirate Classic in Greenville, N.C., will allow the Boilermakers to see a variety of competition, before heading to Fullerton, Calif., for the Worth Invitational, where they will battle perennial NCAA competitors in Cal State Fullerton and Stanford. Spring break will take the team to Tampa, Fla., where the Boilermakers will compete in both the Adidas Invitational and the USF Under Armour Classic. NCAA Tournament teams Long Island, South Florida and LSU will meet Purdue in the Sunshine State.
"Whenever you are playing teams like Baylor, Alabama, Cal State Fullerton and others, not to mention the strong teams in our own conference, you are up for a fight," Maher said. "That being said, I am never going to focus on the opponent. Granted, they have a history when it comes to winning and making College World Series appearances, but we have to focus on ourselves. These programs all have good pitching, good hitting and solid defense. In order to beat teams like that, we have to focus on our strengths and take advantage of any opportunities our opponents may give us."
The Boilermakers kick off their home season against Miami (Ohio) on March 19, the first of several contests against regional foes during the second half of the season. Purdue also will take on Butler, IUPUI, Valparaiso, Ball State and Notre Dame in non-conference doubleheaders.
The Boilermakers also will play 20 games against Big Ten opponents, six of which were invited to the NCAA Tournament a year ago. Purdue finished fifth in the conference in 2007, its best finish since 2001, and registered its first ever postseason victory in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. Maher said the team's non-conference tournament slate and the toughness of the Big Ten will prepare them for a foray into regional action.
"In the Big Ten, there are definitely teams that consistently make it to the postseason and have a good shot at a national championship," Maher said. "Last year was a somewhat down year for the conference, but this year with the players that our opponents have recruited, it is going to be a different season. A lot of the programs in the Big Ten have strengthened their programs with recruits, so playing this tough schedule before the Big Ten is going to prepare us for a tougher conference schedule. In addition, our players and coaches would rather play tough teams going into the postseason, the tournament and the conference, knowing that it wasn't a cake walk for us."