Young softball squad hopes to find success with new aggressive style

Category:  Sports
Wednesday, March 7th, 2018 at 5:01 PM

Last year, the Edinboro women’s softball team tied for fourth place in the PSAC West with a 7-13 conference record and 16-21 overall record.

That team had nine seniors, including one of their top pitchers, the team’s primary catcher and some of the top hitters on the squad. This year’s team will have one senior. They will instead be led by a group of juniors, many of them stepping into starting roles after serving as backups previously.

This year, the Fighting Scots are picked to finish fifth in the PSAC West by the 2018 PSAC Softball Coaches’ Preseason Poll. But Head Softball Coach Dan Gierlak thinks there’s more to this team than meets the eye.

“I’m expecting really good things from this whole team,” Gierlak said. “You know, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing, we’re gonna go out and compete every single day.”

He added that the girls aren’t the same players who watched the early innings from the dugout last year.

“What a difference from where they were a year ago. Maturity level, IQ level in softball and understanding a little bit better, that has really come a long way.”

The lone senior on the team this year is Kerri Stevens, one of only three pitchers left who toed the rubber last year. The Fighting Scots used seven pitchers last season, and four of them were seniors. One of last year’s seniors, Kalet Lenart, pitched the most for the Scots, putting up 78.2 innings in 18 games and earning a team-high six wins.

Joining Stevens in the circle will be juniors Carley Nasca and Amanda Metz, who finished with the two best ERA marks on the team last season. 

Gierlak said the squad will lean heavily on the trio to put together consistently strong performances throughout the season. He said having only three pitchers will be easier because they have different styles that can throw off batters during a game.

“I don’t see anybody coming up and being able to get three, four hits in an inning. I think [Stevens, Nasca and Metz] will limit that,” he said. “They do a great job of attacking the hitters and knowing where to attack them and go from there.”

While the pitching staff will be relatively familiar, their backstop is different this year, with Roni Lipinski taking over full-time catching duties after Theresa Fleckenstein graduated last season.

Lipinski caught in five games last season, and Gierlak explained she will continue to become a strong leader the longer she remains in the role.

“Lipinski has really taken the bull by the horns and has really stepped up as far as catching goes. Roni is a heck of an athlete and has really come a long way,” he said.

The biggest changes for the Fighting Scots this season will be on the field. While juniors Danna Heh and Olivia Jankowski will be returning in the outfield, the right side of their infield graduated along with Fleckenstein and last season’s left fielder Brooke Callaghan, who led the team in both runs scored and RBIs.

Heh led the team in batting average, hitting .437, good for sixth-best in a single season in Edinboro history. In addition, her 55 hits last season are the fourth-most in a single campaign. She was named to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-Atlantic Region first team last year and to the second team after her freshman season.

Gierlak said her speed makes her near-impossible to get out when she puts the ball in play, and she has worked on her bunting skills over the offseason to expand her potential.

“She has that speed [where] if it bounces three times on the infield on a soft slap, she’s safe,” he said. “Danna is what makes us go. [If] she gets on base, we’re in great shape.”

The way he hopes Heh will start playing — drawing more walks and using various forms of bunting and aggressive baserunning — is how he said the team needs to play in order to score runs. If the young team can score runs, they have a chance to take down traditional powerhouses like California University of Pennsylvania and Kutztown University.

“I think we have to do a couple different things. I think we have to play small ball at times, and my biggest thing is, ‘get ‘em on, get ‘em over, get ‘em in,’” he said. “We gotta find ingenious ways of scoring runs.”

When teams experience drastic changes in their style of play, it usually coincides with a change in head coach, but Gierlak, now in his 29th season at the helm of Edinboro’s softball team, said he feels this year’s team is causing him to make decisions he wouldn’t have in the past.

“I’ve always been a big person on keeping one lineup,” he said. “I don’t think we can do that with this group. We’ve got to mix and match kids and figure out what works and who works with who.”

Even though the team was picked to finish fifth this year, Gierlak said his squad is poised to put together a strong season. 

“We’re going to surprise some people with the pitching, and I think our bats will catch up as we continue to go because we did have to fill some voids in there,” he said. “But the pitching is gonna keep us where we need to be.”

Their first test will come over spring break, as they head to Salem, Virginia on Friday for their first tournament. They’ll play six games in three days before heading to Clermont, Florida for the rest of their spring break trip.

There, they’ll take on the University of Charleston on Monday, the University of Indianapolis and St. Michael’s College on Wednesday, and Silver Lake College on Thursday. They’ll then finish the trip on Friday against Southern New Hampshire University.

Charleston finished second in the Atlantic Region tournament and West Virginia Wesleyan, whom Edinboro will play in Salem, lost in the semifinals of the NCAA Division II Softball Championship tournament last season.

“We’re a close team and I think going to the spring trip we’ll learn a lot about each other. We’ll learn a lot about where we can be,” Gierlak said. “The Florida trip doesn’t make our season, but it helps put us in perspective.”

Christopher Rosato Jr. can be reached at

Tags: softball

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