Panther softball seeks identity after losing three of five to open season


Image courtesy of Pitt Athletics

Pitt first-year softball player Haylie Brunson hits the ball during a game in the Northern Lights Invitational in Leesburg, Florida.

By Nick Aaron, Staff Writer

Pitt softball (2-3, 0-0 ACC) looks to rebound from an up-and-down opening weekend as it gears up for another invitational tournament.

The Panthers will travel to College Station, Texas, for the Texas A&M Invitational, with clashes beginning Friday against Missouri State and Stephen F. Austin. Pitt will then take on Kansas and the host team, the Aggies of Texas A&M, on Saturday.

Pitt’s season got off to a rocky start last weekend at the Northern Lights Invitational in Leesburg, Florida. The Panthers suffered losses to Michigan State, Iowa and in-state rival Penn State. Although they managed to pick up blowout wins against Akron and Eastern Kentucky, the Panthers still finished with a record below .500, which they hope to improve in College Station.

In order to leave the tournament with a winning record, Pitt must be more consistent offensively. The Panthers scored no runs during two of their five games last weekend. During the season-opening contest against Michigan State, Pitt didn’t notch any hits after a second inning single from senior infielder Sarah Seamans, and mustered just three hits in the loss to Penn State.

If Pitt wants to come out on top this weekend, they’ll need to hit more like they did in the games against Akron and Eastern Kentucky, when they scored 10 and seven runs respectively. Pitt must get the bats going early and often. Entire games with no runs like those against Penn State and Michigan State simply will not get it done.

But if Pitt’s batters do get hot, any opposition is in trouble. The Panthers have shown the ability to put up plenty of runs in a hurry, burying Akron with an eight-run shelling in one inning alone. Pitt also brought in four runs on three hits against Eastern Kentucky. Batters such as Seamans, first-year utility player Haylie Brunson, and junior outfielders EC Taylor and Bailey Drapola will be the key to Pitt’s offensive success.

Along with junior infielder Kayla Lane, Brunson, Drapola and Taylor all boast north of a .300 batting average thus far, which is considered excellent. Seamans is a threat to hit one deep, having launched Pitt’s first homer of the year on a two-run shot against Akron.

For Pitt fans, Brunson is an electrifying young player to watch. She batted .471 with a .671 slugging percentage in last weekend’s five games. With eight hits, three RBIs and a stolen base, Brunson is proving herself to be one of Pitt’s most productive offensive players, despite her inexperience. Brunson was named to the Northern Lights All-Tournament Team for her efforts.

Going into this weekend, expect Brunson to continue to pace Pitt on offense. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see her earn some freshman all-ACC honors during or after the season.

Batting alone isn’t the only way that the Panthers have attacked opposing defenses. Look for Pitt’s runners to be aggressive in stealing bases, as Drapola and Taylor each stole a base to aid the eight-run second inning against Akron. Taylor had 21 stolen bases last year, the fourth most in the ACC. Advancing runners via stolen bases as opposed to only when the ball is hit should continue to be a big part of Pitt’s offense as it was last weekend, just as it was during the entire 2021 campaign.

Pitt’s pitchers are also a group to watch. The Panthers utilized several pitchers last weekend — redshirt first-year Dani Drogemuller, graduate student Ally Muraskin, senior Abby Edwards and first-year Kendall Brown.

Drogemuller recorded the third complete game of her career, and allowed only one hit against Eastern Kentucky. She also struck out three batters and maintained a no-hitter through 4.2 innings, so look for another complete game from Drogemuller at some point in College Station. In her first career start as a Panther, Muraskin threw a complete game as well, only giving up four hits and one earned run, and recorded seven strikeouts.

Drogemuller and Muraskin stood out as strong pitchers last week. Expect Pitt to lean heavily on them again, especially against stiff competition in undefeated A&M, and a confident Missouri State team that just knocked off No. 21 Arizona State. Pitt’s success on defense depends heavily on how well Edwards and Brown can step up and pick up the slack when Drogemuller and Muraskin aren’t on the mound.

With only a few games under their belt, the Panthers have shown flashes of impressive play, but the variety of results means that it’s too early to pass judgment on the team as a whole. Having a bullpen with a few stars and a lineup filled with capable hitters, there’s no reason Pitt can’t be more successful.

If Pitt can remedy this issue of consistency and put together some complete games, they can expect this weekend’s tournament to go much more smoothly than the last one.