NEW FACES AND NEW OUTLOOK FOR UMES SOFTBALL IN 2013
Jan. 23, 2013
PRINCESS ANNE, Md. - A new season means a clean slate. That is the motto for the University of Maryland Eastern Shore softball team this season.
It is true that last season was a struggle, but with nine new faces and depth at each position, the future looks bright. The Lady Hawks return five of their top six players from the 2011-12 team and have picked up two transfers with quality collegiate softball experience. The roster features seven upperclassmen, four pitchers and it's Most Valuable Player from last year.
Let's break down the Lady Hawks by position:
After throwing all 191 innings for the Hawks last season, senior Carmen Gurrola (Arleta, Calif.) returns as the ace on the hill. The workhorse fanned 72 batters and walked just 45 as she finished the 2012 season with a 9.90 ERA. She was the only pitcher on the staff for UMES last season, but such a concept is not seen this year.
Senior Belen Benitez (E. Los Angeles, Calif.) will compliment Gurrola on the hill this year. From early reports, Benitez will throw the second game of doubleheaders and will provide a starting option during busy weeks. The Lady Hawks have also added the services of freshman Kaitlyn Hitch (Seaford, Del.) and sophomore Ina Chestnut (Clinton, Md.).
"Our pitching looks much stronger this year" said Douglas. "There is going to be a lot less on Carmen's shoulders. We have additional help now and that is going to give her the appropriate rest she needs."
Gurrola will also hit third in the lineup, as she hit .316 last year with six doubles, 24 runs and 16 RBIs.
The outfield features three returners from last year's team. Douglas sees senior Jasmine James (Willingboro, N.J.), senior Kristen Lee (Bowie, Md.) and sophomore Morgan King (Danville, Ill.) as the starters at the three positions to begin the year.
The group will be led by King, who was named to the All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference second team after hitting .330 with nine doubles and 20 RBIs last year. The sophomore was also named Rookie of the Year last season and was a 2012 College Spots Madness All-Conference honoree. King is slotted to play right field and hit in the cleanup spot for UMES this year.
James makes the move from the infield to center field this spring. She was second on the team in hits last season with 27, all the while stealing eight bags and holding a .375 on-base percentage. She will hit in the No. 5 hole for the Lady Hawks this spring after hitting .314 a year ago.
Lee will move over to her natural position in left field this year. She was last year's starting centerfielder, but Douglas thinks the transition to left will benefit both parties. She is set to bat ninth and serve as the second leadoff for the women.
Depth will be provided in the outfield by Vanessa Gomez (Belleville, N.J.), Williams and Chestnut.
"Kristen has so much speed," said Douglas. "Left field is her natural position. I think she can play anywhere in the outfield, but we have Morgan and Jasmine that do a great job as well. We played Morgan everywhere last season, but she is a natural outfielder and I think she will excel there. The outfield is going to be much improved."
UMES enters the season with what is arguably one of the most talented infields in the Sam Douglas era. The entire infield will be different from last year as two transfers and two freshmen appear to have the leading roles at the four infield positions.
Junior Chelsea Alston (Matawan, N.J.) will be the rock of the group as she was a two-time NFCA and NJCAA All-American honoree at Brookedale Community College in New Jersey. The transfer led all NJCAA Division III schools with 51 stolen bases her freshman year and received the Golden Shoe Award. She will leadoff or hit in the two-hole this spring
"Chelsea leads by example," said Douglas. "She has outstanding knowledge of the game and brings a lot of experience. She has been successful at every level and we are excited to have her here."
Freshman Trenece Nash (Decatur, Ga.) looks to hit sixth and will be the anchor at third base, while junior Carmen Frazier (Montgomery Village, Md.), Benitez and Gomez will all split time at first. Gomez and Benitez both have the early nods, as the pair will be in the lineup as either the starting first baseman or extra hitter.
Last season saw a plethora of different players occupy the catching roll. This year is much different as two freshmen will be forced into starting roles from day one. The good news is that they will get to play immediately; something that could prove dividends in the coming years.
Freshman Rachel Vander Ven (Dover, Del.) steps into the starting role as Douglas likes her in the battery package with Gurrola. The Polytech High School (Del.) graduate will get serviceable relief from Nash, who Douglas will likely put behind the plate when Benitez toes the rubber.
"Rachel calls all of the pitches on her own," said Douglas. "She has a lot of knowledge of the game and is a very vocal catcher. She will step in and do great."
The Lady Hawks have a good mixture of returners and young talent on this year's team. The team is much deeper than in years past and has three solid senior captains. The success of the team will largely rely on the play of the returners, but will also need a balanced effort from the transfers and freshman. Douglas is very high on both of the transfers and he thinks they will be a big part on the team's growth.
"We are going to be a very well-rounded team this year," said Douglas. "The team has speed, power and experience. Teams are not going to be able to pitch around some of our players anymore. What I like the most is how several players have stepped up into the leadership role. I think that a lot of schools are writing us off, but I like to be the underdog. I really like the position that we are in."
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