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Pitt softball stays hungry for next year after first NCAA berth

By Jessica Boddy / Staff Writer

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The previous record-setting season for Pitt’s softball squad will be a tough one to follow, but the Panthers are ready. Just ask one of the keys to Pitt’s surprise run, Maggie Sevilla.

“It was a lot of fun and a great send-off for the seniors, and great for the younger players to get a taste of what we’re trying to do with the program in the future,” the redshirt senior infielder said.

Sevilla said the program’s focus now shifts from establishing itself to maintaining success. And with some key returning pieces, that goal seems attainable.

Last year, Pitt finished with a record of 33-19 overall and 11-13 in the ACC, including a record-breaking sweep over Syracuse to earn its 400th program win.

As the sixth seed in the ACC Tournament, the Panthers upset both third-seeded Notre Dame and second-seeded North Carolina. They ultimately lost in the championship game to Florida State University, but their effort paid off, earning them a selection to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.

Though falling to the Cal Golden Bears initially, the Panthers gained redemption by defeating Oakland to advance to the regional final. There, Michigan — ranked third in the nation —  ended Pitt’s NCAA run — but now, the Panthers are as hungry as ever.

Sevilla noted how important it was for the Panthers to make it to the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row.

“It was a big stepping stone for our program,” Sevilla said. “This past season we did a really good job of making sure we were always stepping forward, not looking back, and learning from our mistakes.”

Sevilla also noted that the season was of monumental importance for the program, because it not only proved the team could compete in the ACC, but that it could compete nationally.

Head coach Holly Aprile said they won’t be able to sneak up on their opponents like last year, but knows her team is in a good position to have another solid season. She noted that goals are always a work in progress, but winning an ACC championship is near the top of the list.

Sophomore infielder McKayla Taylor said the most important challenge for the team next season will be to consistently play at a high level.

“Because we ended on such a high last year, I think the hardest thing this year will be to keep working just as hard,” Taylor said.

“One of our main goals is to stay consistent, but also to acclimate our new freshmen,” Aprile said. “We need to get them up to speed as quickly as possible so we can compete at the same, if not a higher, level as last year.”

Sevilla said how she and the other seniors guide the rest of the team in terms of training and commitment, especially the freshman, is crucial leading into the competitive season.

“We want to make sure the whole team is on board,” Sevilla said. “We have an email chain going around letting everybody know the standards that the seniors have set.”

Five players make up the incoming freshman class for Pitt softball: Sarah Dawson, Marissa DeMatteo, Olivia Gray, Taylor Myers, and Alexis Solak. The coaching staff is optimistic about the five making a speedy adjustment to the team.

“I think [the freshmen] are going to fit in great,” Aprile said. “They performed really well this summer when we went out to watch them. We’re very excited about that.”

The Panthers lose six seniors this season – outfielders Jordan Fannin and Carly Thea, infielders Kaila Balatgekand Carissa Throckmorton and pitchers Savannah King and Alexa Larkin. But Aprile isn’t fazed about performing well again in 2016.

“I expect all of the returners to play well to a better degree,” Aprile said. “To play just as well as they did last year and occasionally to play better.”

Aprile has high expectations of her core infielders, Kaitlin Manuel, Sevilla, Taylor and Shelby Pickett. Similarly, Ashlee Sills is entering her senior year, and Aprile sees her as a leader and outstanding performer in the outfield.

Jenna Modic is also an important piece on the field, who will most likely see more time on the mound this year. She performed well last year at the plate, batting .538 with eight RBI and two home runs in the Panthers’ four-game NCAA run.

For Aprile, that run means that no one will take the Panthers for granted next season. The team is prepared for that.

“We know we’re not going to surprise people next season,” Aprile said. “And we’re ready to take on that challenge.”

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Pitt softball stays hungry for next year after first NCAA berth