Softball Season Kicks Off Saturday In Florida

Julia Allman
Julia Allman

MEDIA, Pa. -- The Penn State Brandywine softball team opens the 2017 season on Saturday morning when the Lions play their first of eight contests at the PFX Spring Games during their annual trip to Clermont, Florida.

The two-time defending Penn State University Athletic Conference champions will matchup with York College (Pa.) at 9:00 am for the first of eight games against NCAA Division III teams during the week. Brandywine will also play St. Mary's University (Minn.) on Saturday before battling Juniata and Pitt-Greensburg on Sunday. Following a day off, Brandywine plays Roanoke and Mount Ida on Tuesday and concludes the week-long trip with games against Catholic University and St. Vincent (Pa.) on Wednesday.

The trip to Florida annually presents Brandywine with some of the toughest competition it will face all season, but fourth-year Head Coach Mark Caserta believes it prepares his team for the USCAA World Series in May, where the Lions placed fourth last season, the best showing in school history.

"I've told everyone on the team that they can expect to play in Florida, but the players with the hottest bats will be in the starting lineup. After last season in Clermont, we know what to expect from the teams we face and we are going to try to win as many games down there as possible," said Caserta, a two-time PSUAC Coach of the Year.

Brandywine returns eight players to the roster with World Series experience, including three who have competed at each of the last two USCAA Championships.

Senior second baseman Julia Allman is Brandywine's most experienced player, having appeared in 106 games during the last three years, and is the lone returner among Brandywine's four infield spots. Allman enters the season needing seven hits to become the first player in the history of Brandywine softball, now entering its fourth season, to reach 100 career hits.

Five of Brandywine's seven freshmen will likely see the majority of time at the three remaining infield spots. Alexa Anderson and Alexa Cervella will both see innings at first base, while Cervella, Megan Crisafulli and Brittany Sroga will compete for the third baseman role. Nikki Velez will make her debut at shortstop once the first team women's basketball all-American returns from this weekend's USCAA National Championship.

"Offensively, we are counting heavily on the freshmen, especially Alexa Anderson, who led West Deptford High School and Group A in New Jersey in homeruns last year. Nikki Velez should solidify the middle infield at shortstop along with team captain Julia Allman at second base and Megan Crisafulli, Brittany Sroga and Alexa Cervella will all make strong contributions as well," commented Caserta.

While the infield returns just one starter, the Lions' outfield has all three starters back. All three are sophomores who played in more than 40 games during their rookie seasons.

Centerfielder Arianna Segich was a First Team All-PSUAC standout after batting a team-best .395 with a USCAA-leading 36 stolen bases. She enters the year with a 10-game hitting streak.

In left field, Ashlee Stritzinger topped the team with 33 runs batted in and hit .354 in 42 games, while in the other corner of the outfield, Maddie Malfara also played in 42 games, batting .303 with 10 extra-base hits and 34 runs scored.

"Once again, I will be leaning heavily on the speed, offensive production and athleticism from our leadoff hitter, Ariana Segich. Her defense in centerfield is second to none," said Caserta. Ashlee is a great hitter in the middle of our order, along with Stephanie Harvey."

In the circle, Brandywine's three-woman pitching staff is led by Katie DeStefano and Grace DeRosa. DeStefano, the 2015 PSUAC Pitcher of the Year and first team all-conference performer, owns 14 victories and nine complete-game shutouts during the last two seasons. DeRosa won 10 games, including three during the postseason, and struck out a team-high 66 batters as a freshman.

Freshman Maura Moser is also expected to see time in the circle as well as in the Lions' outfield.

"Grace goes into the season as a top pitcherin the league and I expect her to be even better than last year," added Caserta. Katie DeStefano and Julie Foeldes have plenty of experience and will supply us with great leadership. Along with pitching, Maura has one of our strongest arms in the outfield and will really help our offensive production."

Receiving the pitching staff will be Brandywine's pair of catchers: junior Julie Foeldes and sophomore Stephanie Harvey. Foeldes has played in all 78 games over the last two years, collecting 52 hits and 41 RBI, while throwing out seven attempted base stealers. Harvey earned all-American honorable mention and First Team All-PSUAC honors after finishing second nationally with 29 walks and seventh in on-base percentage. Foeldes will also see time on the left side of the infield, while Harvey will get at-bats as the team's designated hitter.

After its eight-game trek in Florida, Brandywine returns home to play the remainder of its 40-game schedule. Of those final 32 games, 12 will come against NCAA Division III schools, while 16 will be conference matchups. The PSUAC has been split into divisions for the first time with Brandywine playing four games against its four eastern division foes: Penn State Hazleton, Penn State Schuylkill, Penn State Wilkes Barre and Penn State Scranton.

"This is a very talented group and we are all very confident that we can win the conference for the third time and move on to nationals again," said Caserta.

Brandywine, which holds a 35-1 record against PSUAC competition during the last two years, will aim for its third-straight conference title at the PSUAC Tournament from May 6-8 on the campus of Penn State Scranton.