Cabin fever: Mesa State softball team eager to get started on field
Truth be told, the Mesa State College softball players are getting a little tired of one another’s company.
It’s not that the Mavericks don’t get along — on the contrary, it’s a personable, tight-knit bunch — they haven’t had a game situation against anyone other than their teammates for so long. Their only game action since practice began in January has been scrimmages a few weeks ago against Colorado Northwestern Community College.
“It’s becoming mundane a little bit,” coach Kris Mort admitted before last weekend’s games were snowed out.
“We can go live, but if we go live it’s cold, it hurts. You don’t want to develop bad hitting habits in these kinds of temperatures, so you go to tees and station work and it’s like, ‘Coach, we’ve done this 35 days in a row.’ ‘’
Wiped out so far on the Mavs’ schedule have been the RMAC/Northern Sun Crossover Tournament and its replacement, a three-team round-robin last weekend at Bergman Field.
Mesa State opens the season today in a nonconference doubleheader against CU-Colorado Springs and opens RMAC play Sunday against Fort Lewis. Both doubleheaders begin at noon at Bergman Field.
The Mavs are ranked No. 22 in the preseason polls, but Mort was quick to point out those rankings don’t mean a whole lot.
“Last year’s team is done and gone, it’s over,” she told the team. “You’re not last year’s team, you’re this year’s team. You have to create and uphold your own rankings and legacy. Last year’s gig is over.”
This year’s gig, though, could be very good in what’s shaping up to be a balanced, competitive conference.
The Mavericks, who went 30-21 last season and reached the NCAA Division II Super Regionals, return the core of last season’s squad, but also has some major holes to fill.
Junior Sara Jordan (14-6, 3.11 ERA) anchors the pitching staff, with junior Cierra Lard (3-5, 5.18 ERA) moving into the other starting role. Two freshmen, Wailana Borrero, a walk-on from Lihue, Hawaii, and Danielle Axe from Missoula, Mont., will provide a contrast to the starters.
“(Borrero) has a dirty, dirty, dirty drop ball,” Mort said. “She’s got more movement on her drop ball than any pitcher we’ve had here.”
Axe, a left-hander, throws a ball that naturally jams a right-handed hitter.
The outfield is full of familiar names in different positions. Dani Vallie (.322, 41 runs scored), who played second base last season, will start in left, with Windi Serrano pushing for playing time. Serrano’s speed, though, makes her a valuable pinch runner in the late innings.
Gabi Parra (.382, 41 RBI) returns in center field, with Lita Romero (.242) , another infielder last season, moving to right.
Vallie, Romero and Parra will hit in the top three spots, with Jordan (.374, 13 HR, 49 RBI) hitting fourth.
“We’ve talked a lot to Dani and Lita, getting them engaged in when Gabi’s up and they’re on first and second, what’s she going to do? Gabi hits a large percentage of the time line drives in the gap, and they need to be thinking first to home,” Mort said.
Junior Lauren Cross (.367, 10 HR, 34 RBI) is back at third, with sophomore JJ Johnson becoming a true utility player, able to catch or play third, first or outfield.
Senior shortstop Katie Mitchell (.223) has taken a leadership role this season, and senior Ashlee Duffy (.297, 10 HR, .984 fielding average) returns at first.
Freshman Lisa Pille, out of Rocky Mountain High School in Fort Collins, won the starting spot at second base.
Who will replace Meagan Hennessey behind the plate has been the biggest competition so far.
Megan Smith, a 6-foot, power-hitting freshman from Lake Havasu City, Ariz., and Stacy Ball, a sophomore who played behind Hennessey last season, have been pushing one another since practice began.
Neither has a lot of experience, but each has a strong arm and is solid at the plate.
The Mavs have perhaps the most depth in recent years and have the swagger of a confident team coming off a playoff season.
“I think we’re deep,” Mort said. “I think our true test will be how our pitchers can contain some very good hitters in the conference.
“The reality is, I think we’re going to hit the ball and score runs. We have to contain our opponents defensively.”