SAINT LEO, Fla. - It was a rollercoaster of season for the Saint Leo softball team in 2009. The Lions played in 16, one-run ball games and five extra-inning contests. They endured the struggles of a seven-game losing streak and the pleasures of winning 11-win streak. Also, their offense broke or tied multiple Saint Leo and NCAA records, en route their sixth consecutive 30+ win season.
Overall, Saint Leo pieced together a 30-25 record, including a 9-15 Sunshine State Conference mark. And for a team that appeared primed for a deep postseason push, the Lions ended the year with preseason expectations not being met as the concluded conference action in sixth-place. However, 2009 is a thing of the past and with six incoming freshman and junior college players, 2010 has the opportunity and potential to be very exciting.
The Lions return two starting outfielders from the 2009 squad. Senior Tiffinee Harvey and sophomore standout Amber Martyn will fill the void in two-thirds of the outfield grass, while a battle for leftfield continues to spark solid competition. Competing for the final spot is utility (OF/1B) Dianna Gonzalez, as well as freshman newcomers Jessica Figueredo and Alex Garris.
Harvey, a senior from Lakeland, Fla. broke the single season doubles record for Saint Leo with 21 two-baggers in ‘09. The centerfielder solidified her season with a .307 batting average, 35 runs scored and 26 RBI. The outfielder drew 20 walks, while starting in all 55 games, while being spread across the top three spots in the batting order. Her defensive range also shined in the outfield, committing only three errors in 67 chances. She looks to captain a very talented outfield once again from the centerfield spot.
Martyn, on the other hand, provided unexpected power for the Green & Gold. For the season, the West Palm Beach, Fla. native assembled a .333 batting average. She collected 17 extra-base hits on the year including three home runs all while knocking in 25 runs and scoring 27 times. Also, there was no questioning her defensive abilities, as she secured the highest fielding percentage (.976) on the team, committing only one error in 41 chances and amassing seven outfield assists. Her efforts on the field earned her SSC Freshman of the Year accolades, as well as an All-SSC Second Team nod.
Although accustomed to the designated hitter role, Gonzalez, a Riverview, Fla. native, committed two errors in 27 chances in leftfield. Offensively, Gonzalez collected a .204 batting average, securing 19 hits, and driving in four runs.
Joining the trio in the outfield is the freshman duo of Figueredo and Garris. Figueredo joins the Lions via Land O’Lakes high school. Figueredo concluded her senior season with a .238 batting average and a fielding percentage of 1.000. She brings speed to the base paths and the quickness and ability to get on base from the left side of the plate. Garris is a Sickles high school attendee from Tampa, Fla. She adds another strong defensive glove to the outfield mix, while providing speed off the bench.
Ali Lamb, notorious for being a utility infielder, is also another possibility in leftfield. Last year as a freshman, the Clearwater, Fla. native posted a .252 batting average in 53 games at second base. Lamb concluded the year with 32 hits, 11 of which went for extra-bases. She finished the season with three home runs, 17 RBI, and 22 runs scored.
Elysha Agen is the only regular to return to the Lions’ infield. Each position will present a new look for their opponents as no one will be manning the same position that they were last season. Aside from Agen, one other returner, Danielle Moreda, will compete for infield playing time. The new look Lions bring in multiple unfamiliar faces with hopes of repairing defensive gaps which the team struggled with on multiple occasions last year. Coming on board in 2010 are newcomers junior college transfer Ana Castillo and Sarah Boyd, and freshman Katie Gwinn.
After missing the early part of 2009 due to medical limitations, Agen rebounded to play and start in the final 41 contests for the Lions. She culminated the year with a .252 average on 33 hits in between the number one and two spots in the batting order. She delivered five doubles and one home run, as well as scoring 24 runs and driving in 12 runs. Defensively, Agen had 88 chances at shortstop and fielded .919 for the season.
Agen is projected to be the opening day third baseman for SLU.
With the vast majority of the Lions’ infield heading for graduation, head coach Christi Wade brought in a talented player from Phoenix, Ariz. Castillo, a Yavapai Junior College transfer looks to add consistency and range in the lineup and in the field. At Yavapai J.C., Castillo was a prominent member of NJCAA DI National Championship team, concluding her sophomore season with a .399 batting average, a slugging percentage of .469, and 30 RBI.
Katie Gwinn is currently on track to take over the shortstop position for the Green & Gold, as her speed and range will provide the Lions the defensive mobility they have been searching for. At Riverview High School, Gwinn was honored with multiple defensive awards, in addition to other scholar and athletic accomplishments.
A change at first base this year for the Lions, as Ally Maddox no longer graces the first bag at University Field. However, Boyd and Moreda, a sophomore from Tampa, Fla., look to make their own mark at the position. Boyd, a Manatee Community College transfer, was named first team All-Conference on a pair of occasions, while batting .400 and tying for the team lead in home runs with eight. She was a lifetime .365 hitter at Manatee and tied for the team lead in home runs with eight during her freshman campaign.
Moreda on the other battled to stay healthy. In 18 games played, Moreda batted .222 with eight hits, two of which were for extra-bases. She collected five RBI and was issued four bases on balls.
Whoever does not take the position is projected to be the designated player.
The Lions graduated without a doubt one of the best all-around players and pitchers in program history in Ashley Urbanik. Her ace status will be hard to replace but the Saint Leo, led by Sophomore Kristen Kelly, junior Ashton Whidden, and junior-transfer Jamie Walker will attempt to make their own stigma.
Next to Urbanik, Kelly received the most time inside the circle. Kelly posted a 9-5 overall mark and 2.38 earned run average. The Riverview, Fla. native threw in 105.2 innings of work, surrendering 137 hits and 59 runs over the stretch. She punched out 62 batters and surrendered only 32 bases on balls.
Despite a few rocky starts, Kelly demonstrated instances of greatness. In 20 appearances last year, the sophomore had 11 starts giving up two runs or less. Her most impressive performance came in a two-hit, shutout of Lander at the Francis Marion Tournament.
Pushing Kelly is Whidden. The Parrish, Fla. native made six appearances for SLU in 2009, posting a 2-0 record and a 2.55 earned-run-average. She threw in 11.0 innings of work and struck out three batters. She threw three solid innings against Salem International, allowing only one hit and no runs.
The Lions added a third pitcher to the group in a Northwest Florida State College transfer. Walker, a Surrey, British Columbia native, provides leadership and the ability to pitch in tough situation to rather young and inexperienced group. As a sophomore at the junior college, Walker threw 33.0 innings and allowed 10 runs in 22 appearances.
A dark horse candidate to come in relief is utility player Katie Gwinn. Gwinn, like Lamb, will help provide depth at multiple positions for the Lions on their march for their sixth NCAA Tournament appearance.
The Lions return one of the most potent offensive threats in the Sunshine State Conference in catcher Brittany Yates. As a freshman, Yates set a Saint Leo freshman record for home runs in a season with 13. She followed that up with 46 RBI and 31 runs scored. Overall, Yates finished in the top-5 in home runs and RBI, while being nationally ranked in home runs per game (64th), runs-batted-in per game (91st), doubles-per-game (177th), and slugging percentage (66th).
Defensively, Yates threw out five base runners and had a .958 fielding percentage.
Aside from Yates, Moreda could also see time from behind home plate, as her utility player role could see her making starts at multiple positions.
The Lions will look to put their new and revamped look to the test in a strong slate of 2010 conference and non-conference contests. The first pitch of the 2010 season is scheduled to happen on Friday, February 5th at 5:00 p.m. against Webber International from University Field on the campus of Saint Leo University.