SAINT LEO, Fla. – The 2016 defending Sunshine State Conference champions open up the 2017 season Wednesday, February 1st when they head to St. Augustine, Fla. to take on Flagler College in a doubleheader with first pitch slated for 5:00 p.m. The Lions were picked to repeat as the SSC champions and enter the season as the 17th-ranked team in the nation.
About the series: Under Kinberger's tutelage, Saint Leo and Flagler have played five games where the series stands at 5-0 in favor of the Lions. In the five game series, Saint Leo has outscored the Saints 38-8 in 30 combined innings of action. In 2015, the Lions won 13-3 (six innings), 2-1 and again 11-3 (5 innings) before taking both games in 2016 by scores of 2-0 and 10-1 (5 innings).
"I am eager to take the field together this season," Head Coach Erin Kinberger stated about the start of the season. "We have 18 very talented ball players and three of the best assistants in Division II."
Saint Leo's roster has a total number of 18 student-athletes including 12 returners that helped the Lions go to the NCAA South Region tournament a year ago after posting a 39-8, 21-3 SSC record. The Lions add six newcomers to the roster this season in one junior transfer, Alison Mitts (P/INF, Belleville, Ill./Gulf Coast State College), and five freshman, Sara Neuman (P, Elk Grove Village, Ill./James B. Conant HS), Olivia Prieto (OF, Monkena, Ill./Lincoln-Way East HS), Amanda James (INF, Saint Charles, Ill./Saint Charles North HS), Kacie Kelly (INF, Jacksonville, Fla./West Nassau HS) and Sarah Pauscher (INF, Elk Grove Village, Ill./Elk Grove HS).
"All five freshmen are working hard to earn a starting spot, and I'm truly grateful for the various options they are providing us," Kinberger added about the incoming freshman. "I believe they have the opportunity to make a huge impact in our program this season. Along with the freshmen, Alison Mitts, our junior college transfer, is throwing well in the circle and we are ready to watch her have a great first year with us."
In addition to six newcomers to the roster, the Lions add one coach to the staff in National Pro Fastpitch player Sammy Marshall. Marshall has been a member of the Chicago Bandits for two seasons, in which the Bandits have won back-to-back NPF titles. Prior to her arrival in the professional league and at Saint Leo, Marshall was a four-year standout at Western Illinois (WIU), where she was a four-time All-Summit League selection and a two-time Summit League Player of the Year. Marshall set the Leathernecks record for career stolen bases (134) and runs scored (168), on her way to setting both WIU and the Summit League's individual career batting average record at .456. Marshall joins head coach Kinberger and assistant coaches Maddie Holub and Pat Affrunti.
"I'm truly blessed with the best," Kinberger mentioned of her coaching staff. "From our players, to support staff, to the best assistants a head coach could ever ask for. Everyone is bought in and works hard for this program; we are dedicated to providing our kids with the best experience possible. As for the newest addition to our staff and SLUSB family, Coach Marshall has been a true difference maker her with us.
Our slappers are receiving the best-of-the-best coaching day in and day out. The growth we have seen in their physical and mental game is exciting to watch. Coach Marshall fits like a glove in our culture, and she brings a championship mentality to everything she does on and off the field."
Saint Leo will open the 2017 season at Flagler before three straight tournaments in the month of February. The Lions will head to Clearwater, Fla. to take part in the Eckerd Tournament on Feb. 4-5 at the Eddie C. Moore Softball Complex before they enter play in the NFCA Leadoff Classic on Feb. 10-12. Following the NFCA Leadoff Classic, the Lions head to Melbourne, Fla. to take part in the Florida Tech Tournament on Feb. 17-9, before opening up the home portion of the schedule on Feb. 24 at 7:00 p.m. against Embry-Riddle. February 25th will feature a double-header at 12:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. when Saint Leo athletics celebrates National Girls and Women in Sports Day with guest and St. Petersburg native, Melanie Margalis in attendance.
A year ago, Kinberger was named Coach of the Year, as Saint Leo swept the SSC individual awards with Rachael Heath being named the 2016 Player of the Year, Stephanie Adkins was named Pitcher of the Year, and Brooke Samios-Uy was named Freshman of the Year. In all, nine Lions were named to the All-Sunshine State Conference teams, the most of any school, receiving a player in every position.
Saint Leo had four First Team All-SSC members in Heath (outfield), Adkins (pitcher), Samios-Uy (second base) and Tiffany Thompson (outfield). The Lions landed five athletes on the Second Team in Samantha Ohmie (first base), Ciera Schumaker (third base), Brittany Creamer (shortstop), Sommer Pollard (catcher) and Alana Tabel (pitcher).
The 2016 SSC champs, Saint Leo finished the season ranked first in the SSC in batting average (.323), fielding percentage (.974), ERA (0.93), stolen bases (102), and win percentage (.830).
Following the 2016 season, two student-athletes were named College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) Academic All-District V, Brittany Creamer and Samantha Tyler , three were Division II Commissioner's Association All-South Region selections, Stephanie Adkins (First Team), Brooke Samios-Uy (First Team), Alana Tabel (Second Team), followed by Adkins earning NFCA All-American and D2CCA All-American honors in her first season in the Green and Gold colors.
Saint Leo's pitching core ended the season as the 2016 National Statistical Leader in Earned Run Average (ERA) with a 0.93. Tabel led the staff with the second-best ERA in the country (0.66) followed by Adkins who finished ninth (0.99). Tyler rounded out the trio of pitchers with a 1.26 and sat in 16th in the country.
Following the opening weekend of play in 2016, the Green and Gold climbed into the coaches' poll and never left, remaining in the poll for the duration of the season and reaching as high as No. 4, the highest ever in program history.
For more information on the Saint Leo softball program, visit SaintLeoLions.com. Fans can also stay up-to-date on the latest Lions news by following Saint Leo Athletics on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.