The Fitchburg State softball team enters its 2011 campaign locked and loaded to make new strides within the MASCAC Conference. After posting an overall record of 10-24 and a 4-10 mark in the conference, the Falcons and fourth-year head coach, Frank Steffanides are determined to turn things around and make some noise within the league.
“This year, I feel we can certainly finish within Top 5,”said Steffanides. “Our goals coming into the pre-season were to reach our full potential and compete within the MASCAC Tournament.”
This season, Fitchburg State adds a great deal of depth to its squad as eight new Falcons join the list of ten returners. “This off-season, we added a handful of players who will make an immediate impact on our team,” said Steffanides. “With the addition of eight incoming players, we should have plenty of depth at every position, something that hurt us a year ago.”
In addition to its newcomers, Fitchburg State also brings in a solid nucleus of returners, including a pair of All-Conference players and a dynamic pitching tandem. Last season, Fitchburg State boasted a .263 team batting average, totaling 146 runs on 222 hits (41 2B’s, 16 3B’s, 9 HR’s), while its pitching staff notched a 4.56 ERA with 114 K’s and 25 complete games.
“Our pitching is going to be really strong this season,” said Steffanides. “We possess three strong pitchers who can all be dominant in the MASCAC. Add that with timely hitting and solid defense, and there is no reason we will not be competitive within the league.”
At the plate, Fitchburg State looks to turns some heads as it returns a duo of .300 hitters from last season. Senior Nicole Monroe (Pepperell, Mass./North Middlesex) and junior Kelley Cummings (Natick, Mass./Natick) look to spark the Falcons during the 2011 season after combining for 33 hits and 20 RBI last year. Monroe ranked third on the team in average, boasting a .313 mark with 15 hits (2 2B’s, 3 3B’s, 1 HR) and eight RBI, while Cummings ranked first on the team in homers (3), totaling 18 hits (.305 avg.) and 12 RBI.
Also adding to the offensive mix this season will be senior Karen Skoczylas (Palmer, Mass./Palmer), a 2009 All-Conference honoree. As a sophomore, Skoczylas ranked second the squad, hitting .342 with 25 hits, seven doubles, two homeruns and 13 RBI. She was also strong on the base-paths, totaling a team-best seven steals with only one caught stealing throughout the season.
In addition to its returners, the Falcons will have to rely upon several newcomers to continue its offensive production. Throughout the off-season, freshman Shannon Fitzgerald (Blackstone, Mass./Blackstone Regional) has proven her athletic ability as the three-sport athlete adds speed and quickness to the Falcon lineup. Sophomore Alycia McGrail (N. Brookfield, Mass./N. Brookfield) will also add speed to the Falcons after suffering a season-ending injury a year ago, while newcomers Kelly Bourgea (Malden, Mass./Malden) and Briana Kewley (Worcester, Mass./Burncoat) will also see significant action in their first year as a Falcon.
This season, Fitchburg State will be sporting a new infield, one filled with youth and agility as only one starter returns from last year. Fitzgerald (SS) looks to anchor the Falcon middle, earning the starting shortstop roll in the off-season while senior Melissa Wadman (Dedham, Mass./Dedham), the team’s lone returnee, joins her at second base. Last season, Wadman registered a .881 fielding percentage, totaling only five errors over 30 games played.
At the corners, Fitchburg State will turn to its newcomers as Briana Kewley (3B) and Kelly Bourgea (1B) crack the starting lineup. Both are expected to anchor the corners throughout the season, while freshman Jessica Drago (Stoughton, Mass./Stoughton) will compete for playing time at first base.
One of the strongest areas for the Falcons this season will be it outfield as Fitchburg State returns key starters for the 2011 campaign. Senior Karen Skoczylas will be expected to anchor the outfield with her speed and quickness in centerfield, while senior captain Lauren Donell (Ayer, Mass./Ayer) holds down her starting role in right-field.
McGrail is expected to crack the starting lineup as Fitchburg State’s everyday left-fielder, while senior Kristen Love (Londonderry, N.H./Londonderry), junior Megan Jenkins (Dedham, Mass./Dedham), and sophomore Lauren Wetiz (Billerica, Mass./Billerica) will all add depth to the Falcons outfield this year as the three combined for 82 appearances last season.
In addition to its outfield strength, Fitchburg State will also possess and healthy three-man rotation in the circle. Senior Nicole Monroe will anchor the squad for the second straight season, while junior Allison Cousins (Leominster, Mass./Leominster) and freshman Nancy Henry (Forestdale, Mass./Sandwich) battle for the No. 2 slot.
Strictly a power pitcher, Monroe proved to be dominant within the MASCAC last season, posting a team-best five wins with 15 appearances and 12 complete games. She ranked second on the squad with a 5.15 ERA, ranking first in both innings pitched (84.1) and strikeouts (62).
Cousins will also be relied upon heavily on the mound this year as the third-year southpaw totaled 59.1 IP last season. Sporting a 5.66 ERA last year, Cousins totaled 14 appearances and six complete games, while striking out 21 batters.
Henry is slated as the Falcons number three starter heading into the regular season and is expected to contribute significantly, while McGrail and Kewley may see time in a relief roll.
Completing the battery behind the plate will be freshman Megan Breault (Palmer, Mass./Palmer) who earns the starting catchers roll in her first season as a Falcon. Skoczylas will also see some action behind the dish, while Cummings and sophomore Jill Moses (Dedham, Mass./Dedham) could work into the mix.
Fitchburg State opens its 2011 schedule with a new test as the Falcons travel to Clermont, Fla. for eight games in the Sunshine State.
“One of our main goals coming into this season is to start the year off strong with a solid record in Florida,” said Steffanides. “By starting the season off strong, we can hopefully gain some momentum heading into our Northeast games.”
The Falcons will then head back north for an eight game non-conference slate, before opening conference play with a doubleheader at Salem State on Saturday, April 2nd.
“Our schedule is always competitive, even in the MASCAC alone,” said Steffanides. “We have added some solid competition in Florida and some strong non-conference opponents (Keene, WPI, Plymouth State) which should give us a boost heading into MASCAC play.”