BY RICKY POLLITT
Leaders are someone people look to in times of adversity or in moments that require motivation and influence.
With six seniors and a 20-year head coach, leadership is something the Salisbury softball team specializes in.
After losing in the National Championship to Texas-Tyler and Tufts in 2015, the team is determined to bring home the programs first national title in team history.
Sea Gulls’ head coach Margie Knight knows it will be the play of the seniors and upperclassmen that will be necessary to get Salisbury back to the NCAA tournament and give them a chance to bring home the gold.
“They have a great impact on our program, and I look forward to watching them play the game they love,” Knight said.
Despite losing only three seniors to graduation in 2015, the biggest name Salisbury will look to replace is pitcher Rachel Johnson.
For years, Johnson was one of the best pitchers in Division III, posting and ERA of 1.31 and recording 281 strikeouts last season.
Salisbury will now call on senior pitcher Annah Brittingham who despite backing up Johnson in 2015 after transferring from Loyola, posted a 1.94 ERA, had 71 strikeouts while pitching 83 innings.
Brittingham also made her presence known on offense in 2015, where she put up 44 hits, 25 runs and five homeruns making her a major dual-threat for the Gulls.
“She’s got the most experience, and she’s got some great movement,” Knight said.
The Sea Gulls have also relied on freshman Brooke Mizelle who has come into Salisbury and challenged Brittingham for playing time.
Salisbury has already played six games this season and hold a 3-3 record. In that span, Mizelle has pitched 15 innings and tallied an ERA of 3.73 with 12 strikeouts.
Pitching has always been a core strength for Salisbury, and if Brittingham and Mizelle can have the same success the duo of Johnson and Brittingham had in 2015, it should be very hard for opponents to put points on the board.
The infield for the Gulls will be another area of strength as the season continues to progress.
Seniors third-baseman Katie Sebbane and shortstop Kim Dorsey are regarded as top players at their positon who have the experience and knowledge needed to make others around them great.
Fellow senior Molly Simpson will man second-base while Knight decides who gets the nod at first between a race with sophomores Annie Pietanza and Kristen Yanarella and freshman Amelia Trotter.
“Those two, they’re just terrific with great arms, super quick gloves, and even if they’re not the fastest players, I think their sense for the ball is just outstanding,” Knight said regarding Sebbane and Dorsey. “You add Molly Simpson into that mix and you’ve got the other person on the right side that does the same thing.”
Early in the season, Yanarella has gotten the nod at first, and the group of infielders have combined for 11 runs, 11 hits and 11 RBIs in just six games. The Gulls as a team have put up 34 runs with a batting average of .287 in 2016.
Behind the plate, Salisbury will call on senior Paige Knussman to replace Rebecca Hoey. Despite the position being new to Knussman, she has continued to be a reliable force for the Sea Gulls on both offense and defense.
“I do think in the fall, it may have affected her batting, because she had so much to do that was new to her,” Knight said. “I have emphasized that she gets to see so many pitches, how great is this going to be for her hitting. She’ll be able to recognize spins so much quicker than others, and I think it really helped her.”
Much like the infield, the outfield will have a mix of senior and underclassmen leadership.
Senior Rachel Spadin returns to center field, with the reputation of being one of the fastest players on SU. Her experience allows her to signal with her fellow outfielders, find the ball quickly and make the throws to ensure any ball hit her way will not result in a score for the opposing team.
“She’s a wonderful leader in the outfield, directing traffic for the entire team,” Knight said. “She is a converted second-basemen and we put her in the outfield and she is just a natural.
Sophomore LeAnne Collins will move to right field while juniors Caitlin Lake and Summer Paglianete split time in left. All three players have seen time in the outfield and with the leadership from Spadin have the capability to be a terrifying trio to opposing offenses.
The Sea Gulls went two months last year before recording their second loss of the season. After starting 2016 with three losses already, Salisbury will have to make the necessary adjustments to get back to their winning ways.
The defense has looked good with the pitching and fielding looking near perfect at times, but the Gulls offense has not been what it was in 2015.
However, with new faces and players taking on new roles, it will take the team time to develop the same chemistry they had last year. With the guidance from Knight and the six seniors that represent the maroon and gold, SU if confident they will have the chance to bring home the National Championship come May.
“This group, they just keep battling and they find a way to get better,” Knight said. “I think what’s really great is that they are still receptive to new information.”