MIAMI SHORES, Fla.—The Barry softball team kicks off the 2014 season on Saturday, Feb. 1 at noon against the Saints of Flagler College.
The Bucs have 13 letterwinners back this season, including five position starters and three pitchers, from a team that advanced to the finals of the South Region II Tournament in 2013.
The Bucs will have some spots to replace, of course, as Sunshine State Conference Player of the Year Sarah Broeseker is gone at third. Four-year starter Kayla Monroy graduated behind the plate. All-Conference second-team pick Alexis Yohe vacates the circle and lead-off hitter and shortstop Natalia Ojeda also graduated.
“I think every team is different from year to year,” head coach Danielle Penner said. “Last year’s team had more experience, truly a lot more leadership. And in particular at some key positions. Every position is critical, but when you have a senior pitcher, catcher, shortstop and third base, who also happened to be the best hitter in the region, it’s a different type of a team.”
The Bucs return three all-conference players and another who earned all-region honors, making a solid core around which to build. Second baseman Kelly Martinez earned third-team All-America honors from the NFCA. Outfielder Megan Copeland was named the Sunshine State Conference Freshman of the Year. Britney Pugh was second-team All-South Region from Daktronics as a utility pitcher and Julie Brito was named second-team All-SSC at first.
The pitching staff returns three, including Pugh, but lost Yohe who led the team in wins, innings and strikeouts. The returning trio each brings a different style, giving the coaching staff plenty of matchup options. Pugh leads the group in wins, ERA and strikeouts. Camille Czarnecki leads in winning percentage, while Taylor Sabol leads in saves and strikeout/walk ratio.
“We’re returning three quality pitchers,” Penner said. “They are very, very different from each other and they’ve worked very hard to improve. All of them, in combination, make for a very tough staff.”
But along with the returners, the Bucs have an impressive cadre of newcomers ready to step in and fill some roles. They will also help get some returning players back to their natural positions.
“Last year’s team, for all it accomplished,” Penner said, “had some people playing a little out of position. With the depth we have this year, we have at least two players for every position on the infield which we’ve never had before. That will help us move some people back to their natural spots. And there is a comfort level playing where you are used to playing.”
Alexis Kent and Ashley Fernandez are two players looking at returning to old position in 2014. Kent started 47 of 54 games in right field, but will transition behind the plate to replace Monroy. Fernandez started every game in centerfield, but looks to win the third base job vacated by Broeseker.
Several of the other returners will also be competing for starting jobs. Kristina Pazienza and Lexi Corrente are competing on the infield, while Christal Cruz and Kate Hehre look to make their mark in the outfield.
“We recruit our newcomers to come in and make an immediate impact,” Penner said. “This year we have a number of newcomers who will play critical roles.”
Kayla Ogle is the lone transfer in the bunch, coming from Miami-Dade. Ogle brings outstanding speed and a great arm in centerfield. Hunter Mars was a first-team All-State pick as a senior and should challenge in both right field and at second base. Cheyenne Head was an all-star in Canada for the White Rock Renegades who won three straight national titles. Nicole Szelest is a versatile player who started at three different positions in high school and helped lead her Mizuno Krushers to the ASA Nationals.
The schedule is more home-friendly than in recent years. The Bucs play 22 of the 49 games at Buccaneer Field, including six of the first 13. In addition to Flagler, the Bucs host Kentucky State, Palm Beach Atlantic, Tampa, Molloy, Lynn, Florida Tech, St. Thomas and Saint Leo.