SALISBURY, Md. – The Salisbury University softball team heads into the 2018 season anchored by a pair of returning All-Americans, four seniors, and an abundance of talented young players.
The Sea Gull roster features seven freshmen and four sophomores, many of whom are expected to step in and contribute immediately as the program looks to begin its run toward a 20th Capital Athletic Conference championship.
The Sea Gulls are coming off a year in which they placed third in the CAC standings, and finished with a record of 21-19. Some of the areas of need have been addressed and the Head Coach Margie Knight is excited to see how her team comes out in 2018.
"Are people hungry? Oh yeah," Knight said. "Each day players arrive early for practice to get in extra reps. They are self-motivated and understand the 'process' takes time and effort to work. The players are looking forward to the season, and so am I."
"Shannon will be our number one," Knight said. "She's calm, cool, and collected on the mound and has added a pitch that I think will help her."
Powell posted a team-low 2.77 ERA to go with a 9-4 record in 13 starts while making 10 relief appearances and notching one save.
Milligan went 9-9 in 2017 with six complete games while striking out 67 batters in 91 2/3 innings.
"Brea pitched her team in high school to a state championship and Alexis took her high school team deep into the state playoffs, I think they'll really help us," Knight said.
The pitching staff will have two catchers to work with this season in returner Emily Allen, who played in 35 games last season, and freshman Madeira Alexander. Allen was the starting backstop in 29 games last season, and also was a menace at the plate, hitting a team-high-tying seven home runs.
Alexander also brings a big stick to Salisbury, which will gain her time in the lineup, at which time Allen is expected to play third base.
"They're probably going to split some time back there," Knight said. "Emily and Madeira are very talented catchers and our staff is really happy with both of them."
"Kristen is certainly leading the infield, she's the one that's played there the longest in that position," Knight said. "She looks great. Physically, she's stronger, and she's hitting the ball with authority. Defensively, she's gotten much quicker throughout her career.
"Annie has embraced the position and looks at home playing second. She has one of the best swings on the team."
Yanarella and Pietanza were two of four players to start all 40 games last year. Yanarella did so at first base for every game, while Pietanza – a third-team All-American last season – moved around a bit before finding her permanent spot at second base.
When Allen is behind the plate, junior Amelia Trotter and sophomore Kaila Beach are battling for the spot at third base, while freshman Dakotah Fraley is expected to begin the season at shortstop for the Sea Gulls.
One of the top offensive and defensive threats in the nation last season returns to patrol the outfield. A first-team All-American a year ago, LeAnne Collins will move from right field to center field for her senior season.
Collins was a finalist for the National Player of the Year award, and this year is on the preseason watch list for the award along with Pietanza, after batting .537 – the third-highest average in Division III – to go with 11 doubles, seven triples, three home runs and scoring 48 runs.
"She's a triple threat – she can lay down a bunt, she can slap, and she can hit it out," Knight said. "She likes to drive it up the middle, drive it down the lines, she will take whatever the pitcher gives her. She is a very smart player, and very disciplined."
While Collins will anchor the outfield, junior college All-American transfer Cat Ramagnano will play right and may have one of the most powerful arms in the program's history.
Freshman Sami Mumford, a local product from Indian River High School, and Trotter will be battling for time in left field, with the race likely coming down to who is more successful early on at the plate.
Salisbury opens the season with a run of 20-straight games scheduled to be played at Sea Gull Softball Stadium beginning with the Sea Gull Early Bird Tournament on the weekend of February 24 and 25.
The schedule features a number of strong opponents, including defending national champion and preseason No. 1 Virginia Wesleyan University, which comes to Salisbury on March 17.
The Sea Gulls get into CAC play on March 31 with a doubleheader against the University of Mary Washington, with their eyes then on the conference tournament, which this year is changing formats with the top two seeds each hosting a three-team opening weekend, double-elimination tournament. The winner from each site will face off in a best-of-three championship series, with the winner claiming the conference championship and heading to the NCAA tournament.