Young Pitt softball striving to make 2022 postseason

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Kaycee Orwig | Senior Staff Photographer

Pitt softball alumni Brittany Knight pitches. Pitt softball looks to improve after finishing 11th in the ACC in 2021.

By Alexander Ganias, Staff Writer

After playing back-to-back truncated seasons, Pitt softball is making its final preparations for 2022, in the hopes that a full season is in its sights. The Panthers are coming off a rather pedestrian 17-29 record in 2021 and 11th-place finish in the ACC

In a league where the top 10 teams advanced to the conference tournament, Pitt just missed the cut. But this season, there’s a wrinkle in the Panthers’ quest for their first postseason berth since 2018, when they lost the championship game to Florida State on a walk-off home run. They will host this May’s ACC Softball tournament for the first time in school history.

Head coach Jodi Hermanek explained that this announcement was huge for the program, but that hosting the tournament didn’t add extra incentive to do well this season.

“We’re excited to show off Vartabedian Field,” Hermanek said. “But I think no matter where it’s played we have enough incentive to make it to the tournament no matter what.”

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Several players believe that hosting the tournament adds an incentive for doing well this season. Sophomore outfielder Cami Compson wants to play postseason softball in front of the Panther home crowd.

“We worked really hard this fall,” Compson said. “We plan on working on that when we come back, and [the tournament] is giving us some extra motivation to do well.”
Compson is coming off a stellar year for the Panthers. She led the team in batting average (.325) and on-base percentage (.406) and added 11 home runs. She also earned a spot on the All-ACC Third Team and All-ACC Freshman Team.

And while Compson was the only Pitt player to take home all-conference honors that season, junior outfielder EC Taylor wasn’t far behind her in terms of offensive production. The Florida transfer batted .315 and accounted for 27 of the team’s 55 stolen bases in 2021. Senior infielder Sarah Seamans also cashed in for the Panthers with a team-leading 13 home runs. Those three returning bats will be crucial for the Panthers, who lost four players from their starting lineup — seniors Hunter Levesque, Morgan Batesole, Lolo Sanchez and graduate student Walker Barbee — to graduation last year.

With big holes to fill, Hermanek thinks she has a myriad of options to choose from.

“We’re learning who we are as an offense,” Hermanek said. “I loved the amount of depth we had [this fall]. We have more speed on our roster, and we just have some very capable athletes.”

The Panthers played several scrimmages in the fall, facing off against Seton Hill, Robert Morris, Fairmont State and St. Francis University. Redshirt first-year pitcher Dani Drogemuller struck out seven batters against the Colonials and the Falcons, and 11 batters in the first of two games against the Red Flash. She won three games in four starts in 2021 while tossing a team-best 4.05 ERA, before a foot injury cut her season short.

But the right-hander believes she can come back stronger this season.

“Obviously staying healthy is number one,” Drogemuller said. “But I have to make sure I’m ready to be that leader and to come back stronger, especially for the new players on our team.”

Pitt brought in two first-year pitchers, Maya Johnson and Kendall Brown, to bolster its rotation. Johnson, a southpaw from Ohio, set numerous single-season records at St. Joseph Academy in Cleveland, including a staggering 1.04 ERA in her sophomore year. Brown was a utility player at Phoenixville High School in Pennsylvania and gave up only eight home runs in her sophomore year, which was the second-best in the state

The newcomers will look to help the Panthers’ pitching, which was a cause for concern last season. Their 5.20 combined ERA was almost a full run higher than the next-highest, Georgia Tech, who posted a 4.59 mark. They were also the only team in the conference to give up more than 200 earned runs (220), and an opponent’s batting average higher than .300 (.311). Pitt ranked dead-last in all three of those categories.

Every pitcher had a WHIP of more than 1.5 and an ERA north of four. Senior pitcher Abby Edwards had the most innings pitched out of the returning staff with 94.1, but she walked 41 batters while striking out 50. Junior Becca Miller had more walks (7) than appearances (6) in 2021. Drogemuller cited walks as one of the main factors behind the pitching staff’s struggles. 

“We need to get our pitchers matured and ready to play,” Drogemuller said. “I remember last year our big problem was that we gave up a ton of walks, so we need to cut down on that and make the teams earn their runs.”

The players and staff realize that the schedule in front of them will be a tough one. Pitt will face all four ACC teams ranked in last season’s final poll. Its first series will come against No. 2 Florida State, who went to the national championship series, and the last one will be against reigning ACC champion No. 20 Duke. 

The Panthers had a few wins against ranked opponents last year, including one against the aforementioned Seminoles, but didn’t create momentum after these big wins. The ‘Noles ended up taking the series, and Pitt’s only ACC series win that season came against North Carolina. 

Hermanek believes those few good wins show that Pitt is capable of competing with the big players this season. 

“We have a lot to build off of,” Hermanek said. “We have a taste of what success feels like, and we have a young and hungry roster of eager kids, so I think this season will have a whole different outcome.”

Their first game will come in the Northern Lights Southern Lights Tournament on Feb. 11 in Leesburg, Florida, against rival Penn State at 9:30 a.m.