Ability to play multiple positions will be key for Mesa softball players this season
With a new coach, it’s often the case that every position is up for grabs.
That sure is the case for the Colorado Mesa University softball team.
Three starting position players, all seniors, returned this season. First-year coach Candace Abrams moved two of them to different spots on the field.
Lisa Pille, a mainstay at second base the past three years, has moved to third base, with shortstop Taylor Gross playing second.
The third starter, power hitter Megan Smith, is still behind the plate.
“We looked at the bigger picture and what was going to work for us, and that required some of those girls moving,” Abrams said. “If you’re an athlete, that’s one thing we’ve been stressing from Day 1, you don’t know where you’re going to play. Right now I’ve taken two outfielders and brought them into the infield, and I took an infielder and put her in the outfield.
“As long as they’re versatile and willing to do it, it can work.”
Abrams drills all of the infielders at every position.
“It’s everybody go to third base, you’re all taking ground balls at third today,” she said. “It’s something that we make sure: Do you know what the first baseman needs to do in this situation? Everybody is responsible for knowing everything.”
With only 16 players on the roster, versatility will be the key to the Mavs’ success this spring. Four players have quit since practice started, and a fourth player with experience from last season, junior pitcher Ashley Pulido, is coming off labrum surgery. She’s starting to throw again and hopes to be able to pitch this season.
“Any kind of surgery is tough. It depends on the person, the athlete and their mind-set,” Abrams said. “She’s very gung-ho and driven and motivated. We’re just making sure she’s not doing too much.”
Right now, the Mavs have two pitchers, both new to the program. Junior Jessica Severinsen transferred from Division I Northern Iowa and is helping teach freshman left-hander Courtney Shreves the ropes of being a college pitcher.
Abrams, who played and was an assistant coach at the University of Arizona, isn’t one to play conventional softball. Instead of having her speedy left-handed slap hitter at the top of the lineup, she’s going with the veteran Pille to lead off.
She’ll mix her lineup as needed depending on opposing pitchers, and instead of loading up her outfield speed in center and left, she might go with more speed on the corners, the better to cover the lines and help the center fielder on gap balls.
In the outfield are Megan Brown in left, Tawnee Woosley in center and Rachel Boothe or Brooke Ortale in right. Woosley, who played infield and hit right-handed last season, has moved to the left side of the plate to take advantage of her speed as a slap hitter.
And if you can move infielders around, you can take outfielders and make them first basemen. Lindsay Drayer, a junior who has played outfield, will play first base, where the Mavs had some of that early season attrition.
“She played a little infield, but up the middle,” Abrams said. “You stick somebody at a corner, and it’s very quick. Right now the game feels a little fast for her, but she’s starting to pick up some things, and I think she’ll do a great job for us there.”
Makayla Kovac, a freshman from Erie, will start at shortstop. Abrams figures Kovac will have “freshman days,” but is confident she’ll shine.
“She’s going to have her moments, but I know without a doubt, in the seventh inning she’s going to come up with that ESPN play and do it when it counts,” Abrams said.
The Mavericks will be aggressive on the bases, and Abrams expects a solid defensive team, and one that studies the game.
“One thing we’ve told our kids, I will err on the side of aggressiveness all day long,” Abrams said. “I will take an aggressive mistake over a passive mistake any day. If the pitcher releases the ball and you see that ball in the dirt and you go and the catcher throws you out, you tried. That’s an aggressive mistake.
“It’s the hesitation and then you go, and I’ll get on you for (it).
“We’ve preached: Use your eyes, use your head, be a student of the game. Look at the whole field and say, ‘OK, where can I give a little bit more, take an extra base and be a little smarter in that situation.’ They’re starting to catch on.”