by Sean Begin
With two tournaments in Florida and Virginia to open the season, the Central Connecticut softball team used the warmer Southern climates to help thaw out their offense, returning to New Britain Sunday evening with a respectable 5-3 record.
“In Florida we were pressing a lot at the plate,” said acting head coach Breanne Gleason. “Since it was our first games [of the season] we were pretty pumped and I think that showed at the plate that our heads were a little bit all over the place.”
The softball team opened its season with five games over three days at the University of Southern Florida’s Under Armour Invitational, starting on Feb. 28.
That day the team split a double-header, defeating Campbell University 4-0 before falling 4-1 to Georgia State. The team split another double-header the next day, losing 3-2 to Toledo before blanking Stanford 5-0. They finished with a single game, a 4-1 loss to Oakland, on Sunday March 2.
“We played well for our first time outside in a very long time. We saw some really good things,” said Gleason. “Our whole pitching staff did really well, especially for their first time out.”
“We got the rust off and definitely came home with a lot of stuff to work on.”
The team, as Gleason noted, saw some solid pitching, highlighted by a pair of shutouts from senior Laura Messina, who went 2-1 on the road trip. Fellow senior Julie Marks suffered two losses at USF, despite giving up just two earned runs over 10 innings of work.
“She gets that it’s not always the pitching performance that decides the game,” said Gleason of Marks. “Sometimes you just don’t hit and that happens and that’s not the pitchers fault, it’s softball.”
The rust on offense, coupled with some ill-timed fielding mistakes, proved to be enough to bring Central home with a 2-3 record.
“We did have some errors at some not so great times but it was really more our hitting,” explained Gleason of the early season struggles at USF. “We had to work on stringing hits. We were stranding a lot of people on second or third base, which is not good.”
Inside the three losses the Blue Devils suffered in Florida, they stranded 21 runners on base while committing 13 errors leading to seven unearned runs. The team hit just .192 over those five games.
Thankfully, perhaps, the schedule, not unlike the baseball team, has seen some upheaval due to the last vestiges of winter.
A doubleheader at Coppin State was cancelled, as were the team’s first two games at the Hampton Tournament against Drexel and host Hampton. The lost games gave the team an extra day of practice to work out some of the kinks presented in Florida before heading to Virginia.
“We did have an extra day to practice here, which I was really happy about,” said Gleason. “We got an extra day of hitting in, which I think it showed; it helped with the three games that we played [in Virginia].”
Added Gleason: “We tried to work on staying simple when you’re at the plate, keeping everything just like it is in practice; swing hard and good things will happen. We try to work on having people on, putting that pressure on them in practice so they feel more comfortable with it in the game.”
Whether it was the extra work in practice or the rust falling away, the team exploded offensively in their contests this past weekend in Virginia.
Over three games (a double-header versus Iona and St. Bonaventure on Saturday, followed by a second match against St. Bonaventure on Sunday) the team hit .342 to raise their season average to .275, scoring at least six runs each game and breaking eight twice.
Their pitching remained as strong as in Florida, this time without the badly timed errors. Messina started and won each game in Virginia, going three to four innings in each contest before handing the ball off to the bullpen to finish.
“Laura is a rock,” said Gleason of her ace. “When she throws well good things happen for us. I sat down and we had a talk with her about setting goals for her career: what she wants when she leaves Central and I think that helps her stay focused in games.”
“Every pitcher that we have got a chance to throw this weekend [at Hampton] and they all showed they can compete and get outs, which is huge,” she added.
The pitching staff has seen a nice addition with sophomore, transfer Sarah Gaalswijk, who has pitched six scoreless innings of two hit ball for the Blue Devils.
“From the fall to now Sarah is a totally different person. She has gotten so tough,” Gleason said. “She was in a few situations where there were runners on and she had walked people but then she worked hard to get the outs for us. And that’s all you can ask. She’s doing her job and we feel comfortable with her on the mound.”
Despite the team’s struggles on offense in Florida, the bright spot for the team has been freshman Alexis Debrosse. Debrosse is hitting .381 with two homeruns, eight RBIs and five runs scored so far this season. Her torrid start has earned her consecutive NEC Rookie of the Week honors to start the year.
“We knew how good Lex was when she got here. She’s one of those kids that you would never know she was a freshman when you see her play,” said Gleason. “She’s a presence. She’s done a great job, especially as a freshman, to step up like that.”
Veteran leaders Kat Malcolm, a junior, and senior Arielle Bruno have continued to play the way that earned them Eastern College Athletic Conference All-Star selections last season.
Malcolm is hitting .385 with a homer and three RBIs, while Bruno, despite a low .231 average, has drawn six walks to produce a .394 on base percentage, allowing her to score a team high six runs — tied with Malcolm.
The team has drawn 24 walks this season to just 34 strikeouts, demonstrating patience at the plate that differs from their usual offensive philosophy.
“We are more of an aggressive mindset, which is kind of contradictory to how many walks we have,” explained Gleason. “But I think the girls are doing a great job of staying mentally focused because sometimes when you’re swinging at balls you’re not focused; you’re all over the place.”
The team leaves Thursday to return once more to USF — this time for USF’s Spring Break Tournament — followed by single games against both USF and the University of Florida. From there, the team will travel to Delaware for the Delaware State Tournament before kicking off NEC play with a March 29 double-header versus Sacred Heart.
“We’ve been really trying to focus on Central softball; not worrying about who we’re playing but worrying about playing our best and getting in the habit of winning,” said Gleason.
“Hopefully, these next two trips can help us get on a roll and continue that into conference.”