GW Softball Opens Season This Weekend at Campbell's Hampton Inn Invitational

Autumn Taylor and the GW softball team aim to top last year's storybook season in 2013.

Feb. 8, 2013

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WASHINGTON - The George Washington softball team opens its 2013 campaign this weekend with four games at the Hampton Inn Invitational hosted by Campbell University.

Under the direction of third-year head coach Stacey Schramm, the Colonials will open their season against Seton Hall on Friday at 1:40 p.m., followed by Robert Morris at 8:40 p.m. The following day, GW will take on Campbell at 1:40 p.m. before closing out the tournament against Virginia at 8:40 p.m.

Picked to finish third in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll, the Colonials return 14 letterwinners from last season's squad, which produced a school-record 25 wins and advanced to the Atlantic 10 Championship game for the first time in program history.

Seton Hall is led by first-year head coach Paige Smith, who inherited a team that went 21-32 last season. Senior Brittany Hammer batted .300 with 34 runs and 13 RBIs last season. Robert Morris is coming off a 35-22 season in which it won the Northeast Conference regular-season title. The Colonials lost their top two offensive threats, but return Tess Apke, who batted .289 with six home runs as a freshman, as well as pitcher Nicole Sleith, who posted a 25-11 record and a 1.59 ERA.

Campbell returns 19 letterwinners from a team that went 30-29 in 2012, including Ericka Nesbit, who batted .402 for the Camels last season, and Stephanie Jones, who hit .368 with 51 RBIs. Finally, Virginia went 26-25 a year ago and was led by Erica Cipolloni's .300 average and six home runs. In addition, Melanie Mitchell posted a 19-13 record and 1.55 ERA with 278 strikeouts in the circle.



GW will be facing Seton Hall and Campbell for the first time ever, and it will be just the second all-time matchup with Robert Morris, following last season's 2-1 win in the Colonial Classic in Washington, D.C. GW is 0-8 all-time against Virginia, but the teams have not met since the 2010 Cavalier Classic in Charlottesville, Va.

The Hampton Inn Invitational is the first of five tournaments for GW in 2013. Next up, the Colonials will travel to Spartanburg, S.C., for USC Upstate's Spartan Invitational.

2013 Softball Season Outlook

The George Washington softball team was 9-23 and had lost seven in a row after a doubleheader sweep at the hands of Atlantic 10 Conference rival Charlotte on April 1, 2012, and next up for the Colonials were four games in Philadelphia against Temple and Saint Joseph's, who were a combined 8-0 in A-10 play. A funny thing happened that weekend though - GW batted .348 as a team and smashed nine home runs in four games, posting a 3-1 record. The Colonials returned to D.C. with a new swagger, and they went on to win 13 of their final 18 regular-season games thanks to a re-energized offense and a rejuvenated pitching staff.

"The difference from the first half of the season to when we really turned the corner was the pitching - really focusing on our pitchers' strengths and not trying to be overly creative," said third-year head coach Stacey Schramm. "We didn't worry so much about our opponents, we just focused on our strengths, and I think that made the biggest difference because our pitchers were consistent and our fielders knew exactly what our pitchers were throwing all the time so they were more prepared defensively. And of course our hitters were just outstanding and it started to get contagious."

GW eventually earned the No. 4 seed in the Atlantic 10 Championship, reaching the tournament for the first time since 2007 and just the second time in program history. In the first game, the Colonials routed the same Charlotte team which swept them in early April to earn their first-ever postseason victory. Then after falling to regular-season champ Massachusetts, GW shut out Saint Joseph's, 1-0, in an elimination game to stay alive.

The Colonials' reward? A matchup with defending champion Fordham, which had limited them to just two runs on 12 hits in three regular-season meetings. This was a different GW team, however, and the Buff and Blue knocked off the Rams in a 14-inning marathon thanks to a suicide squeeze bunt by a rookie and lights out pitching by a senior.

GW had secured a spot in the A-10 title game, earning a rematch with UMass, which had not lost to a conference opponent all season. Sara Plourde, the league's Pitcher and Player of the Year, no-hit the Colonials twice in the regular season and held them without a hit for six innings in the championship contest as the Minutewomen took a 2-0 lead into the seventh.

With three outs left in a fairy tale season, second baseman Julie Orlandi reached base on a wild pitch to bring up freshman shortstop Victoria Valos. Valos, who homered off Plourde two days earlier, crushed a shot over the left field fence for her third home run of the tournament to tie the game at 2-2.

Unfortunately for the Colonials, however, UMass had the final at-bat, and with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, second baseman Kyllie Magill lined an 0-1 pitch over the right field fence and the Minutewomen walked off with their 23rd A-10 title.

Though disappointed, the Colonials could hold their heads high. No one had predicted such a season from GW, which was picked to finish eighth in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll and had won 22 combined games in 2010-11, going 9-31 against league opponents in that time. Instead, the Colonials won a school-record 25 games, including 11 in conference, and reached heights never before achieved by a GW softball team.

This year, the Colonials will sneak up on no one - in fact, there is a target on their backs as the A-10 runners-up - and the league's coaches picked them third in the preseason poll behind only UMass and Fordham.

"We just need to keep playing like there's a chip on our shoulder," Schramm said. "We can't forget what got us there. Last year is over, but we know what we did to be so successful, and we just need to continue to improve on that."

Two of the keys to GW's 2012 run were pitchers Kara Clauss and Heidi Penna, who combined for 15 of the Colonials' 16 wins over the final 23 games of the season, allowing just 33 earned runs in 142.1 innings during that stretch.

Clauss and Penna have graduated, but Schramm believes junior Courtney Martin and sophomore Chelsey Pedley are ready to step up. The duo appeared in just seven games during GW's run.

"Chelsey Pedley has such a fire in her, and you can see that she sees this huge opportunity and she's going to grab it by the horns," the coach said. "Courtney has a whole sense of leadership about her."

Highly touted freshman Meghan Rico joins Martin and Pedley on the pitching staff. Rico was named the 2011 Player of the Year by the Boston Globe and after posting a 21-0 record and a 0.15 ERA at King Philip High School in Wrentham, Mass., and should be ready to contribute right away. A power pitcher with good movement, she struck out 628 batters over her final two years in high school.

Sophomore Samantha Dos Santos will handle the majority of the catching duties again this season. As a rookie, Dos Santos handled the pitching staff like a veteran while also setting a school record by throwing out 14 attempted base stealers. Despite struggling at the plate, she posted a high on-base percentage with 27 walks and laid down a school-record 16 sacrifice bunts, but after a strong preseason, Schramm expects Dos Santos to be even more of an offensive presence in 2013 now that she has a year of experience under her belt.

Junior Chelsea Curcio and freshman Morgan Matetic will back up Dos Santos behind the plate.

The Colonials return three-quarters of their 2012 infield, and Schramm believes the veterans' experience playing together, as well as the addition of freshman Carlee Gray at first base, make it GW's strongest in her tenure.

Standing six feet tall, Gray was the MVP of her conference after batting .460 as a senior at Elk Grove High School in Northern California, and Schramm expects her to be an impact player in the conference.

"She's so athletic - she can dig balls in the dirt, she's got a great arm, she's not afraid to take chances," the coach said. "She makes our infield so much better."

Senior Julie Orlandi has started 127 games at second base in her career, and she will reprise her role this season. Schramm envisions her returning to the No. 2 slot in the lineup and expects big things from the veteran.

"Julie's been doing well in the cage in practice," she said. "This is going to be her breakout year. She's already a good hitter, and hopefully she'll be able to really generate some runs for us out of the two-hole."

Third baseman Tara Fogarty was a big part of the Colonials' 2012 turnaround. She batted just .169 with four RBIs over the first 32 games of the season, but her resurgence coincided with GW's, as she hit .324 with four home runs and drove in 15 the rest of the way. Now a senior, Forgarty has picked up where she left off and should find a home in the heart of the order.

"She's been hitting the lights out of the ball," Schramm said. "If she's not hitting the ball really well, she breaks it down and is able to make adjustments. She's just a really mature hitter."

Sophomore Victoria Valos returns at shortstop after a phenomenal rookie campaign in which she earned Atlantic 10 All-Rookie and All-Tournament Team honors. As a freshman, Valos led the team with a .320 batting average and .577 slugging percentage and set school records with 11 home runs and 33 RBIs while also displaying outstanding range in the field.

"She makes such good decisions and is really patient and waits for her pitch," Schramm raved. "Obviously she's got the power and she's got such quick hands and good hand-eye coordination. I haven't seen a better hitter come through GW, and we expect her to do as well as - if not better than - she did last year."

GW's offense lost a key component in right field, as leadoff hitter Lauren Wilson graduated last May after garnering second-team all-conference honors. Wilson did it all - she hit for average (.296) and power (10 home runs, seven doubles), produced runs (26 RBIs, 41 runs scored) and just got on base (39 walks, .462 OBP). She made things happen on base as well, recording 25 steals on the season.

Schramm said Wilson's production will not be replaced by just one player, but junior Chelsea Lenhart will slide over from left to right field and could also replace Wilson atop the lineup. Lenhart was an Atlantic 10 All-Rookie selection in 2011 but struggled at the plate last season, batting just .229, but she rediscovered her stroke in the fall and has continued to hit in preseason.

Senior Autumn Taylor returns to center field for her final go-round in the Buff and Blue. Taylor gets it done offensively and defensively for the Colonials, using her speed to prevent balls from getting into the gaps while hitting for average and power. Last season, she batted .296 with 10 home runs and matched Valos with a school-record 33 RBIs.

"Autumn will run from foul pole to foul pole, and when she gets in a rhythm at the plate, she's just unstoppable," Schramm said.

Joining Lenhart and Taylor in the outfield is junior Alexandra Del Prete, who will patrol left field in 2013. Del Prete saw limited at-bats last season but served as a key defensive replacement, and Schramm says she is one of the best defensive outfielders on the team. She showed off her strong arm in the Atlantic 10 Championship, gunning down the would-be winning run in the bottom of the seventh against Fordham to send the game to extra innings.

The speedy Amanda Zakeri will likely reprise her role as designated player after a career year in 2012. The lefty slap hitter ranked third on the team in on-base percentage (.351) and fourth in average (.282) last season while stealing a school-record 27 bases.

Senior Kristi Saporito was the Colonials' primary pinch-hitting option a year ago, picking up a team-best six pinch hits in 20 at-bats, including the game-winner against Saint Joseph's in the A-10 Tournament. She could see time at DP as well this year, along with Matetic and fellow freshman Maura Murphy. Matetic hits for power, while Murphy is a good contact hitter who comes from a competitive high school program at Mount Si in Snoqualmie, Wash. Both players can also fill in at a number of infield positions. Sophomore McKinley Tretler saw limited action during her rookie year but is another pinch-hitting candidate.

GW faces a daunting non-conference slate facing the likes of Penn State, Virginia, St. John's and Iowa State at early tournaments. In addition, Ohio State will visit Mount Vernon in March as the Colonials gear up for Atlantic 10 play.

"It's going to really test us and allow us to feel comfortable when we play those types of teams in the future," Schramm said.

With the graduation of UMass' Plourde and Fordham ace Jen Mineau, Schramm believes the conference is up for grabs in 2013, but one thing is for sure - no one will be surprised if it is GW left standing in the end.

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