MIAMI SHORES, Fla.— The 2012 class of Buccaneer softball had a great run. Over four years, they posted a 138-68 mark, including 64-31 in the Sunshine State Conference, and advanced to the NCAA Regional their last two years. But that seven-player group is gone and head coach Danielle Penner’s Bucs have their work cut out to keep building on the foundation laid.
The cupboard is far from bare, with five starters returning from last year. In addition, Penner brought in a large, deep and talented recruiting class that is ready to jump right in and make an impact.
“We have a strong core of returning players and an impactful group of newcomers,” Penner said. “Our depth, which may be the strongest in a decade, will provide a lot of options in every area from pitching and defense to offense.”
With some of the most versatile players in Buccaneer history dotting the roster, this year’s team goes at least two deep at almost every position.
The Bucs return their infield intact, a group that helped lead the team to a .974 fielding percentage. The Bucs finished second in the SSC in fielding behind Tampa, but the Spartans produced 54.9 percent of their outs via strikeout, compared to just 26.3 percent for the Bucs. While the infield returns all five starters, including catcher Kayla Monroy, the outfield has just six out of the 153 starts compiled in 2012.
“I am confident that the 2013 softball squad will be very competitive at the conference, region and national level,” Penner said. “Provided we continue to focus as a team, push ourselves to be the best and work harder than everyone else, even when nobody is watching, we should have an exciting and successful season.”
The catching corps has a three-year starter and a young understudy in the fold for 2013.
“We’re blessed with some very strong catching candidates this year,” Penner said.
Monroy has made 109 starts over her first three years, including all 51 games in 2012. She is one of the top defensive backstops in the SSC. She compiled a .994 fielding percentage and nailed 14 of 52 attempted base runners, by far the most in the conference. Only Saint Leo’s Brittany Yates, at 10, reached double figures besides Monroy. Her 26.9 percent catch rate was second in the league.
Though she only came to the plate 55 times and hit just .182, she made the most of her trips, compiling a .339 on-base percentage and five of her eight hits went for extra bases, giving her a .113 isolated power rating.
Freshman Alexis Kent is an elite athlete and has perhaps the strongest arm of the group. Though she may see the majority of her time this year in right field and at third base, she is an outstanding backstop. As a hitter, she was better than a .500 hitter for her Deltona High team as a junior and senior. She has a great eye, and is a good situational hitter.
The pitching staff, with two experienced returners and three outstanding recruits, may be one of the deepest in Division II.
“Other teams, though not many, might have one pitcher better than we have,” Penner said, “but I don’t know anyone who has our depth. There just isn’t much drop off between the starters, and who is number one out of the group changes from day to day.”
Senior Alexis Yohe comes back this year after working as the number two starter a year ago. She went 15-4 with a 1.53 ERA, and struck out just over seven batters per game. She came up with some of the Bucs’ biggest wins, knocking off then top-ranked Alabama-Huntsville and defending SSC champs Rollins, both by 3-2 scores.
Fellow senior Paula Mackin has a 29-14 record and 2.56 ERA over her career. She has a chance to move into the Barry top-10 in wins and strikeouts.
A pair of NCAA Division I junior transfers join the team this year, to vie for starting spots in the rotation in Stetson’s Camille Czarnecki and Britney Pugh from Florida Gulf Coast.
Czarnecki was one of the Hatters’ top hurlers in 2011, going 9-9 in 19 starts and tossing a pair of shutouts. As a freshman at Iowa Western, she led the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference in strikeouts (151) and saves (4), going 16-7 with a 1.60 ERA. Though she has had limited opportunity to swing the bat in college, she is also a threat at the plate.
Pugh is perhaps the hardest thrower on the staff, and one of the most physically fit players on the team. She saw limited action at FGCU before taking a medical red-shirt, but was a two-time all-conference pick at St. Petersburg College. She posted a 29-19 record and a 2.11 ERA, and tallied 331 strikeouts in 334.1 innings pitched.
Freshman Taylor Sabol rounds out the staff. A lefty with great natural movement, she brings a different dimension to the staff. She has the ability to make the rest of the staff better as she follows out of the pen. A very quick player, she is working on her slapping game after not swinging the bat in high school.
For the second year in a row, all four starters return on the infield.
The left side is more decorated, as both shortstop Natalia Ojeda and third baseman Sarah Broeseker have earned all-conference and all-region honors the last two years.
Broeseker is the team’s top returning hitter. Hitting out of the leadoff slot last year, she led the team with 14 doubles and four homers. Her .329 average, 29 runs and 28 RBI were second on the team. She should fill the number three slot in the order this year, and expect her production numbers to rise. Defensively, she has improved each of the last two years, cutting her errors from nine to seven, while increasing her clean chances from 99 to 138.
Ojeda has held down the starting job at short since transferring in from Palm Beach Atlantic and been remarkably consistent. In her first two seasons, she hit .319 with 44 runs and 36 RBI out of the nine-hole in the order. All her averages have been within a couple points, except on-base percentage, which she rained 24 points last year. She will look to utilize that skill in the leadoff spot this season.
The dynamic sophomore duo of Kelly Martinez and Julie Brito is back to hold down the right side of the infield. As the second baseman, Martinez committed just six errors last year, while first base Brito was flawless in the field. A speedster, Martinez also flashed some pop, totaling eight extra-base hits, including one homer, as a rookie. She was second on the team with 19 stolen bases. Brito carried a slightly higher average as a first-year player, .277 to .214, while Martinez had the higher on-base mark, thanks to 16 walks, which were second on the team.
Red-shirt freshman Kristina Pazienza provides quality defensive depth at second and especially third. She compiled a .527 average with 11 homers and 131 RBI in four years at Mount Dora Bible and was named Florida Class 2A Offensive Player of the Year as a sophomore.
Lexi Corrente can play nearly any spot on the infield. As the Southwest Florida Softball Player of the Year at Barron Collier High, she is expected to develop into an elite level hitter.
Anyelit Sequera provides depth at the corners. She hit .375 with a homer and 11 RBI at Doral Academy as a senior, earning honorable mention all-county.
The bad news: After returning all three senior starters last season, the Bucs’ outfield cupboard needs a complete re-stock in 2013.
The good news: Penner has plenty of options to fill the spots.
Junior Hannah Shy, who spent her first two seasons on the infield, has been working primarily in the outfield this fall, where she made her only start last season.
The starters, after being all seniors in 2012, could be all freshmen in 2013.
Ashley Fernandez looks to be the leader in center field, thanks to a strong arm and good speed. A star on the infield at Coral Reef High, she was an All-Dade County selection after hitting .435 with two homers and 23 RBI with the Baracudas.
Megan Copleand will likely get a look in left field. A speedy outfielder and slapper, she was a star for Palm Harbor University High. She hit .462 with 35 runs scored and 16 stolen bases from the leadoff slot.
Right field could be a bit of a revolving door. Kent could see extended time there when not behind the plate.
Junior Kate Hehre and freshman Christal Cruz both bring outstanding speed, and could fill in a slot. Hehre, a transfer from Burlington County College, hit .311 with 24 RBI and 30 runs scored as a sophomore. Cruz, from East Ridge High, hit .333 as a senior, scoring 16 runs and stealing five bases.
With plenty of versatility, a number of other players could fill in time in the outfield if needed, including Broeseker, Martinez, Monroy, Sabol and Pugh.
The Bucs open the season with an exhibition doubleheader against Northwood on Thursday, Jan. 31 at 4:00 pm at Buccaneer Field, then hit the road for 17 games before returning home on Feb. 28 against Mercyhurst.