Softball returns multiple starters, defends MAC West Division title in 2018
While the first game at Margo Jonker Stadium is still over a month away, the Central Michigan softball team has already started defending its Mid-American Conference West Division title.
The 2018 squad returns 16 players from last season's team that won the regular season the MAC West title. The Chippewas posted an overall record of 37-15, with an 18-5 conference record.
Head coach Margo Jonker said with all of the experience returning this season, she expects the players to really grasp every aspect of the game.
“I expect this team to enjoy the process of the game and respect the game fully,” Jonker said. “That means to give 100 percent (effort) and play with passion every chance we have to take the field.”
CMU is coming off a 4-4 start to the season in the Mercer Invitational and Liberty Softball Challenge.
At the plate
Senior catcher Maison Kalina and junior center fielder Allison Curtis tallied the best hitting percentages in 2017.
Curtis, who started 51-of-52 games, hit the highest percentage on the team with a .377 batting average. She added 20 RBIs, 10 doubles and five triples. Kalina, who started 47 games, hit .338 and knocked in 24 runs.
In the power category, it was junior first baseman Erika Underwood and junior infielder Rachel Vieira who stood out. Both players led the team in home runs (five) and RBIs (26) with identical numbers.
Underwood said she is working on the mental side of her game this season.
“I’m just trying to learn how to be better with resting myself on every single pitch,” Underwood said. “I tend to overthink a lot of things and beat myself up for it. It takes me out of my rhythm and it causes me to not perform well, so it’s something I’m working to change.”
The Chippewas return five players who took more than 100 at-bats with a .260 or higher batting average.
In the field
Curtis also led the team in fielding percentage on defense. The Tucson, Arizona native posted a .988 fielding percentage with just one error in 82 putouts.
Redshirt junior Sara Hansen was forced to miss all but eight games last season with a torn ACL. In 2016, she led the Chippewas with 14 stolen bases and was named the MAC Freshman of the Year and made the All-MAC Second Team.
“I’m just ready to be playing again,” Hansen said. “I’m not putting a lot of pressure on myself with goals or certain standards. I am just excited for the chance to play again.”
Senior outfielder Lacy Tolfree completes the trio of expected starters in the CMU outfield this season, posting a .975 fielding percentage with three assists.
Underwood led the starting infielders with a .978 fielding percentage. She committed just six errors on 256 put-outs at first base. Vieira is right behind her with a .928 fielding percentage from the middle infield and catcher positions.
In the circle
Former star pitcher Rachael Knapp put up numbers in 2017 that went noticed around the country.
The 5-foot-7, right-hander pitched a program record 38 games with 30 starts, while ranking first in program history with 27 complete games. Knapp was second in the MAC with a 1.44 earned run average. She had a career-high 22 wins and posted 256 strikeouts — ranked No. 15 among NCAA Division I programs.
Now the Chippewas will try to replace Knapp's production.
Senior right-hander Hanna Warren was CMU’s No. 2 starter last season, going 11-5 with a 2.52 ERA and 61 strikeouts to 31 walks.
Senior right-handed pitcher Taylor Weaver returns after appearing in six games last year. She recorded a 1.14 ERA and two wins. Junior right-hander Laura Vaccaro, who made eight appearances and put together a 3.37 ERA, will also return.
Jonker said they are excited to return some veterans from past seasons.
“We have three of our four starting infielders back, two outfielders from last year and Hansen back from an injury, so we’re looking good there,” Jonker said. “I think every team has a different personality and we don’t know ours yet. It should become more evident as we go along.”