By Aidan Gagnon '21 / Sports Information Staff
WILLIMANTIC, Conn. -- The 2018 season is in the books, and as the temperature begins to rise, the 2019 season is so close that you could almost grasp it.
Entering her 18th season as the head coach of the Eastern Connecticut State University softball program, Diana Pepin '92 is no stranger to consistent success. Last season, Pepin won her 400th game and is the winningest head coach in the 42-year history of the program. If that wasn't enough, she was also inducted into the Connecticut Scholastic and Collegiate Softball Hall of Fame before even calling it a career.
With 15 letterwinners returning – including all but one starter from last year's final game -- Pepin anxiously anticipates the start of the 2019 season. For the upcoming season, Pepin stated that she is, "really excited for this year, I think this team has a lot of talent and they've been working hard; the fall was good, and they've had really good chemistry, as well."
For a second season in a row, coach Pepin believes that experience will be a major factor and will help the team get back on the road of success. The 2018 season didn't end the way the Warriors would've hoped. Eastern finished 10-4 and in second place in the Little East Conference regular season, but was 7-18 out of the conference, finishing 17-22 record. The team was eliminated with shutout losses in the LEC double-elimination tournament.
The past three seasons have also produced a combined 8-26 record on the season-opening spring trip, which dug a deep hole from which the team could not climb out. This year, it hopes to reverse that trend.
The expectations for the team's success are also high from within the Little East, where the head coaches have labelled the Warriors as the pre-season favorite to claim the regular-season title – an accomplishment which they have achieved (either outright or shared) seven times in the last nine years.
All five players named to the All-Little East Conference team a year ago return, among them first-team picks Morgan Bolduk (Vernon), a sophomore pitcher/infielder, and junior centerfielder Sabrina LeMere (North Branford). Bolduk was also voted as the program's first Rookie-of-the-Year in seven seasons.
Although experience will be a major factor this year (7 juniors and 3 seniors), Pepin is also looking forward to the potential impact that three or more freshmen will have from Day 1. Having young players on a team always brings ps and downs, and coach knows that, but she believes that the junior and senior presence will set the tone for the season.
The 2018 season saw a respectable team earned run average at a 3.16. Pepin thought this was a good number, but in terms of softball, feels it should be much lower.
This year, she will have plenty of options when it comes to who takes the pitching circle. Juniors will make up the majority of the pitching staff in the forms of righty Haleigh Cardello (Litchfield, NH) and lefties Jacky Arndt (Chelmsford, MA), and Morgan Sanson (Thomaston), who are expected to share innings this year.
At right: Senior second baseman Jackie Lewis
Bolduk figures to get a majority of the pitching time this year after pitching 133 innings, tallying up 101 strikeouts, and an earned run average of 1.95. She was 10-11 with a save last year. Arndt (2-1, 3.25) was limited to 23 2/3 innings due to an arm injury last year, while Sanson was 3-7 with a 4.52 ERA and Cardello 2-3 with a 4.65 ERA. Sanson hopes to return to her freshman form, when she was 5-7 with a 3.25 ERA, with 70 strikeouts and only 30 walks in 92 2/3 innings.
Although she was named All-LEC as a pitcher, Bolduk's hitting statistics were just as impressive. Ranking among the top hitters in the LEC, Bolduk racked up a .376 batting average with four home runs, a team-high 29 runs, and 13 RBI from the leadoff spot.
Junior co-captain and second-team All-LEC pick Megan Hodgdon (Cheshire) returns for her third season as starting catcher. Pepin loves Hodgdon's defense and states that she is a big help in managing the pitchers. Pepin believes that Hodgdon's experience catching numerous Division 1 players makes her stand out.
On the left side of the infield, junior second-team All-LEC shortstop Sara Pisanelli (Wallingford) returns as the two-year starter and active career leader in hits (85), total bases (120), RBI (51), and assists (166). Junior Crysta Wolski (West Hartford) returns after her first season as starting third baseman. On the right side of the infield, senior Jackie Lewis (Mystic) returns as the starting second baseman each of the last two years. She was third behind Bolduk and Pisanelli (.352) in hitting (.346) and second only to Pisanelli (77) in assists, with 68.
In addition to Bolduk, sophomores Christine Guyette (Mansfield) and second-team All-LEC utility player Alexis Tyrrell (Torrington) return after holding down starting positions at first base and right field, respectively, as freshmen. Guyette led last year's team in field averaging (.990) and putouts (186). Tyrrell had a team-high 12 stolen bases and was second in runs (27) batting first and second in the lineup.
At left: Junior catcher Megan Hodgdon
Calli Duthrie (Griswold), a senior, shared left field last year with Jessica Seymour, the program's lone graduate from a year ago. Sophomore Kat Devolve (Plainfield) will also contend for the position after starting 21 games as a freshman a year ago, primarily at DP, and batting .269. Freshman Laura Zenk (Hermon, ME) is also a candidate for the position.
Pepin is adamant that several freshmen will play significant roles this season, so don't be surprised if Katelyn Miller (Wallingford), Julia SanGiovanni (East Haven) and Brooke Matyasovsky (Orange) see substantial infield action. A two-sport athlete, Miller plays second base, Matyasovsky corner infield and SanGiavoanni on the left side.
Freshman Grace Leone (Brick, NJ) will serve as a catching backup to Hodgdon. Coach pointed out that Leone "does a great job of sucking the ball into the strike zone" and really wants to play this season. Angela Rodriguez (Windsor) will be fighting for minutes behind the dish, as well.
In addition to their primary positions, Pepin feels that a number of players will add versatility in utility roles.
Bolduk is capable of playing multiple infield positions as well, and might seem some time at one of those positions especially after the monster season she put up last season at the plate. Hodgdon is another player who can play all around the diamond, and might see some time out from behind the plate to alleviate some of the stress on her knees from catching regularly.
Eastern is scheduled to open the season with ten games in in Winter Haven, FL March 10-15, all but two of the opponents located outside of New England, and are scheduled to kick off their northern, home and conference seasons March 23 against the University of Southern Maine at 1 p.m. at Clyde Washburne Field.