Zach Thomann, Sports Editor
The Utica College softball team came back from their trip to Kissimmee, Florida with a 4-6 record after facing four nationally-ranked teams.
Junior Haley Fredericks batted .500 in 22 bats while senior Sebrina Stransky had five home runs and 18 RBIs.
UC has a young roster this year with 11 underclassmen on its 19 player roster. This has been a challenge for head coach Pat Mineo, who said the team will have to improve throughout the season to compete in the Empire 8.
“We’re going to get better for sure,” Mineo said. “I have confidence in us to make the playoffs, and I think we are right there.”
Mineo said the team will need to improve on pitching this year after losing their best pitcher from last year. The Pioneers are currently using three players in the pitching rotation, two of them being underclassmen. Freshman Gabby Caccamo was arguably the top pitcher for Utica over the first ten games with a 2-2 record and a 3.72 ERA.
Despite being inexperienced, Mineo is not worried about finishing at the top of the conference during the regular season.
“All we have to do is finish fourth,” Mineo said.
The top four teams in the conference compete in a round robin, double-elimination playoff format. This format has Mineo believing that it does not matter who gets the top seed because everyone will likely have to play each other. Mineo also believes that this playoff format leads to the best team usually winning in the end.
“This isn’t like the basketball format where if you lose, you’re done,” Mineo said. “It’s tough to upset a top-notch team more than once.”
Mineo says that St. John Fisher College is the favorite to win this year after winning last year’s championship. The Cardinals finished with a 44-8 record, which has Mineo concerned about matching up with them in the playoffs.
“I feel that every game we can win,” Mineo said. “But, I’ve never been 100 percent positive with an outcome.
Anyone in the conference can be beaten, but Mineo said that is something that he will never tell his players.
“They already know,” Mineo said. “It’s important for them to think that we can beat anyone, but that has been every athlete’s mindset from the moment they step on campus.”
The Pioneer coaching staff tries to stay positive during games and Mineo focuses on not yelling at his athletes because he believes nothing good comes out of screaming. His focus is working to build up the confidence of the athletes who need the most help.
“There is no place to hide anyone in this sport,” Mineo said. “You are as strong as your weakest link.”
Mineo has figured out his starting lineup for this season but thinks there are still opportunities for improvement or rotating players.
“This is a team sport played by individuals,” Mineo said. “If some players don’t do well, you can’t win.”
The team is hopeful to do well in the Empire 8, and Mineo sees a second- or third-place finish in the conference. The coaching staff said the team would be happy to finish first, but the regular season does not matter.
“You get nothing for finishing first in the regular season,” Mineo said. “Not even a piece of dirt.”