Coach expects returning team to be a hit
As she enters her 15th season at MSU, softball head coach Jacquie Joseph said she’s never had a better hitting team than the 2008 Spartans — including last year’s team that led the Big Ten in hitting.
“We just have a lot of really mentally tough kids who have a lot of experience and we’re deeper in the lineup (than last year),” Joseph said.
Returning from last year’s lineup are six starters that helped the Spartans to a 33-26 overall record and 7-10 mark in the Big Ten.
Four of the returners — senior outfielder Nikki Nicosia, junior catcher Kara Weigle, senior utility player Traci Nicosia and senior catcher/third baseman Caitlin Mahoney — all hit over .300. Mahoney also led the team with 12 home runs and 47 RBIs, while Traci Nicosia had 31 RBIs and 15 doubles.
With those four back, as well as the debut of redshirt freshman Bianca Mejia (who missed 2007 due to an ACL injury), Joseph said the overall depth of the lineup will make the Spartans a tough out through the batting order.
“In years past, you send out six kids, maybe seven kids and you send up a couple automatic outs — kids that might hit .200,” she said. “I don’t have an out in the lineup, literally not an automatic out in the lineup.
“Hitting is a very mental thing and kids can slump, but 12 kids aren’t going to slump, and I’m going to start nine and I have two on the bench who can flat out hit.”
Aside from calling this her best hitting team at MSU, Joseph also said the 2008 team is the best defensive squad she’s had.
But while hitting and fielding will be MSU’s strengths, the pitching staff is the big question mark for the Spartans.
Joseph said she thinks that having returning ace Lesley Noel, a senior who went 9-8 with a 3.27 ERA last season, back will be a key player in how well the Spartans do — especially after what Joseph saw out of her late last season.
“She didn’t have great numbers for the whole season — but it’s the way she ended the year that was so impressive to me,” she said. “I think a light bulb came on for her, for whatever reason, and she picked up this year right where she left off.”
Joining Noel on the staff are junior Megan Hair (8-7, 3.24), sophomore Kelly Confer (4-1, 4.76) and freshman Shae Bass, who underwent shoulder surgery and won’t be able to come back until the middle of March.
“I’m encouraged (and) I’m optimistic, but I’ve also been doing it long enough to know that I need to see it (in game situations),” Joseph said.
Aside from the three categories you need to be able to do well to win — pitching, defense and hitting — Joseph said this veteran group has the type of intangibles to do some good things.
While she said her players all work hard and know what to do and what not to do, she said there’s something more to this year’s team.
“I like their energy a lot,” she said.
“People can call that chemistry, too — and they do have good chemistry as well, but it’s more than chemistry with this group … it’s a little something different.”
The Spartans open up their 2008 season in the Seminole Classic against UAB on Friday in Tallahassee, Fla.