Created on Friday, 15 February 2013 03:34 Written by Dave Uhrmacher / Staff Writer
After an even 26-26 finish last season, the Pitt softball team will look to emerge as a top-tier team in the Big East conference this season before transitioning to the Atlantic Coast Conference next year.
The Pitt softball team kicks off the season Friday when it travels to College Station, Texas, for a four-team tournament hosted by Texas A&M. Pitt will open with back-to-back doubleheaders against Stephen F. Austin and No. 11 Texas A&M on Friday and Saturday before closing play Sunday against future ACC foe, the No. 22 North Carolina Tar Heels.
Pitcher Savannah King enters her sophomore season as the Panthers’ ace. After setting multiple Panthers softball records in her freshman campaign, including most wins (19), appearances (40) and innings pitched (227.1), King will be counted on time and again to pitch numerous important innings for Pitt.
“We are looking forward to getting back to getting on the field and getting back to playing in some nice weather,” said King. “The preseason practice can get long, but it builds the anticipation and excitement, especially when you are playing those top teams right off the bat.”
The battery combination of King and senior catcher Holly Stevens will lead the Panthers on the diamond for a majority of games this year. Stevens — Pitt’s all-time home-run leader — is the only senior on a roster with 14 of its 16 total players in their first or second year of eligibility.
King isn’t allowing the squad’s youth to alter what she expects the team to accomplish.
“Even though we are young, I have a lot of high expectations for this team,” she said.
A challenging schedule awaits the young Panthers squad as they will face 11 teams that advanced to the NCAA tournament last season.
King sees the schedule as an opportunity for the Panthers to grow and improve.
“I know the Big East is really competitive, and our tournament play has a lot of top teams,” she said. “I think our team is ready this year. We have a lot of heart and a lot of talent that can really shine. We can play together as a team and make a name for ourselves.”
Assistant coach Gina Fuchs echoed King’s thoughts on the tough road ahead.
“I think we are always trying to have a challenging schedule. It helps us prepare well for a challenging Big East schedule and the postseason,” she said. “I think the girls enjoy the tough competition and having the opportunity to play with the best teams in the country.”
As a freshman, Maggie Sevilla started all 52 games for Pitt last season and finished second on the team with eight home runs. Though only a sophomore, she will be looked upon as a leader for an inexperienced group in the infield.
“I think it is just important that we come in here and work, every day counts, as long as we take it day by day,” the second baseman said. “If we can put all of that together, we can have a really good year.”
Carissa Throckmorton, a player who also started all 52 games last season as a freshman, will make a position change as well, moving from outfield to third base.
“I think this tournament is really going to show how well we mesh together. We played really well together throughout the fall,” Throckmorton said. “It is going to give us a preview for how the rest of our season is going to be.”
The Panthers head into the season unranked, but they expect to compete with the top teams in the Big East this season. One key for success will be the continued development on the defensive side, with all four infielders not having any experience playing with each other.
Assistant coach Jen Chamberlin, who is in charge of fielding and hitting, has confidence that team members will mature quickly as a group.
“I think the challenge has been working on communication, getting them to work together and come together has been a little bit challenging,” Chamberlin said. “But the fundamental thing is that they are all catching on really quickly, and now we just need them to mold together on the field.”
Following the Texas A&M tournament, the Panthers will make trips to Bowling Green, Ky., for the Holiday Inn Hilltopper Classic, Kissimmee, Fla., for the ESPN Disney Tournament, Tempe, Ariz., for the Diamond Devil Classic and Fairfax, Va., for the Cherry Blossom Classic. The Panthers home schedule will begin March 19, when they take on St. Francis (Pa.) in a nonconference doubleheader at Vartabedian Field.