2004 Softball Preview|
Youthful and enthusiastic should be the two words that describe the 2004 St. John's softball team. With a roster that includes five freshmen and six sophomores, the Red Storm expect to provide an energetic and fun-to-watch style of play this season. However their youth should not stand in the way of their success, as they return four of their top-five offensive players and their top two pitchers, along with welcoming newcomers who will immediately step into the starting lineup.
The Red Storm, led by fifth-year head coach Melody Cope, will lean heavily on fifth-year senior Courtney Fitzgerald to be a leader on and off the field. Fitzgerald, the team's only senior, will anchor the St. John's pitching staff after a successful 2003 campaign, where she lead the team and ranked in the top-ten in the BIG EAST in almost every statistical pitching category. However, the team's success may hinge on Fitzgerald's ability to comeback from a broken rib that cut her season short last year.
If Fitzgerald and junior Meghan Allman are able to recover from injuries that have hassled them for the past couple years, the Red Storm could possess one of the top pitching staffs in the conference. Allman, who struggled last season as she attempted to comeback from injury, is back healthy and hopes to return to her 2002 BIG EAST All-Rookie team form. In 2002, Allman broke six program single-season records, along with throwing 13 shutouts and three no-hitters. Along with Fitzgerald and Allman, the Red Storm welcome three newcomers to the pitching staff, including freshmen Brittany Crouch and Kimberly Lerch and junior college transfer Katie Watson.
Offensively, sophomores Jo Sherlock and Megan Oliver return after earning conference postseason honors last season. Sherlock, an All-BIG EAST second team and All-Rookie team selection, led the team with a .320 batting average and 56 hits, along with team-highs in home runs (7), doubles (13), slugging percentage (.526) and on-base percentage (.375). Aside from her statistical leadership, she is the leader in the Red Storm outfield, patrolling centerfield and providing solid defense up the middle.
Oliver took home BIG EAST All-Rookie team honors last season, having finished second on the team with a .301 average and 55 hits, while leading the Red Storm with 32 runs scored. This season, Oliver will be looked at to be more of a leader for the young infield, which will include freshmen starting at second base (Tami Hill) and shortstop (Loren Anguiano). Along with Oliver, junior Allina Sainz will need to step up and assist the youthful middle infield. Sainz, the team's starting first baseman, will provide power in the middle of the lineup as she hit five home runs last season, and drove in a team-high 30 runs.
The Red Storm outfield returns two players who started every game last season. Along with Sherlock, sophomore Jessica Marical was a staple of the Red Storm outfield, supplying tremendous defense in right field, as she committed only one error during the entire season. Sophomores Blair Belloni and Leigh Carlson will split time in left field this season, as Belloni saw limited action last year, starting eight games and playing in 25, while Carlson was forced to sit out due to an injury.
The Red Storm will have great depth behind the plate this season, as they return their two starters from last season, while adding a freshman that will see quality time. Junior Jillian Sandoval returns after two solid seasons to begin her St. John's career, where she has compiled 88 hits, leading the team over the two-year span. Sandoval will split time behind the plate and at third base, allowing sophomore Carrie Kester and freshman Christina Tucker to see some action. Kester is strong defensively having not committed an error in 23 games last season, while starting 12. Tucker could see a lot of time as the season moves on, providing the offense with power and RBI potential from the catching position.
The Red Storm will test the youth of their team early as they spend the first month of the season on the road traveling to Florida and North and South Carolina to compete in various tournaments. Since this will be the first time the team will have fielded balls off the dirt since the end of the fall season, these tournaments are key preparation for the Red Storm's upcoming BIG EAST competition. St. John's opens the home portion of their schedule when they host St. Francis (N.Y.) on March 17 at Red Storm Field. However, the Red Storm remain on the road for the first half of the BIG EAST conference schedule, as they do not play a home conference game until May 1 against Villanova. Their home BIG EAST schedule concludes with Rutgers, Syracuse and Notre Dame, as they make their push towards the 2004 BIG EAST Tournament.