Softball Aims at First Playoffs Appearance in Three Years

By LAUREN BOYD

Last season the softball team finished 17–14–1 overall and 4–8 in the Nescac, placing the Panthers third in the Nescac West standings and six games out of the conference playoffs. Middlebury loses five seniors from that 2017 team to graduation, but the returners and newcomers are confident that this year’s edition of Middlebury softball can overcome its small roster size of 13 players to play to the best of its ability, hopefully returning to the Nescac playoffs in the process. After five straight trips to the Nescac playoffs, from 2011 to 2015 — including its only Nescac championship and NCAA tournament berth in 2011— the softball team has not made it to the postseason each of the last two years.

Leading the way this season will be senior captains Kati Daczkowski ’18, Ali Della Volpe ’18, Taylor Gardner ’18 and Allison Quigley ’18.

Last season, Quigley pitched in 18 games, starting 15 of those, and posted a 2.27 earned run average and 63 strikeouts in 98.2 innings. She finished sixth in the Nescac in ERA and seventh in strikeouts.

Daczkowski, Della Volpe and Gardner all played in 30 of Middlebury’s 32 games last season, primarily in the field — although Gardner chipped in 19.1 innings on the mound.

Daczkowski played in the outfield last season. In 85 plate appearances, she posted a .482 on-base percentage, finishing fourth in the Nescac in that category, while also recording a .368 batting average.

Della Volpe played both in the outfield and in the infield at second base last season. She hit .280 and stole a team-high six bases.

Gardner played mostly at second and third base, with a dash of pitching mixed in. Gardner finished tied for third on the team with 10 doubles, the second-most of any returning Panther, providing some pop for a Middlebury team that struggled to score runs in Nescac play.

Melanie Mandell ’20 will provide Middlebury’s biggest bat, after hitting .439 to go with three home runs, 12 doubles, and three triples last season. Mandell made the All-Nescac first team last season as a first-year. She had the second-best batting average among qualifying hitters in the conference, and the third-best slugging percentage (.714).

Mandell’s fellow sophomores Marybeth Stone ’20 and Olivia Bravo ’20 also plan to build on their strong first seasons in the blue in white, when they hit .405 and .380, respectively.

Although there are only 13 players on this season’s team, the captains emphasize small numbers play to their advantage, as they have grown closer as a team this school year.

“We have the best team chemistry we’ve had in years,” said Daczkowski. “We are a small team, so everyone has to go above and beyond to make up for the lack of bodies. No one can afford to slack.”

Quigley is convinced Middlebury’s small group is extremely versatile, motivated, and driven to get the best out of itself.

“We’re lucky to have a group of players who are willing and able to play more than one position. We have a group who isn’t afraid to push one another and strive to get the best out of themselves and their teammates,” said Quigley.

Middlebury’s 4–8 Nescac record in 2017 seems bad on the surface, but the Panthers lost a lot of close games, as four of their eight losses were by two runs or fewer and only two were by more than four runs. The Panthers ended their season by losing their last three games to eventual Nescac champion Williams 1–0, 5–1 and 3–1, showing they could hang with the conference’s best in three consecutive games.

The Panthers struggled to score runs in the Nescac last season, as they scored only 42 in 12 games, tied with Wesleyan for the fewest in the West division.

But Della Volpe agrees with Quigley that Middlebury has a balanced roster entering this season, with strengths on the mound and at the plate.

“We have a great pitching staff and have a strong hitting lineup,” said Della Volpe. “We have a lot of players who can hit for power, while also having some players who can put pressure on the defense with their speed and skill.”

After dedicating themselves to their craft in the offseason, Della Volpe is confident Middlebury will be able to hit the ground running this spring, even as the Panthers figure out how to fill the missing pieces left by last year’s graduating class.

“We have some underclassmen who are ready to step up and fill [the graduated seniors’] shoes this year,” Della Volpe said, “We have been working hard as a team to be strong and fit this year, to both prevent injuries and be in the best shape possible. We have also focused a lot on our communication and teamwork on defense, and worked on our mindset when we are at the plate.”

Because of numbers, Middlebury team will look to its underclassmen, including first-years Claire Tipler ’21, Emily Morris ’21, Kaylee Gumm ’21, and Emily Moore ’21, to step into the shoes of players lost to graduation.

The whole squad has high hopes, starting with their spring training trip to Florida.

“Our goals are to start the season off strong in Florida, and then come in and win our NESCAC games,” Della Volpe said.

“Our goal is to just win and have fun,” added Quigley. “The other seniors [and I] want to go out on a high note.”

The Panthers will first hit the field on Friday, March 23 in Clermont, Florida, for their season opener against Allegheny. They will play 10 games in Florida over spring break before returning to Vermont to play a doubleheader at Norwich on Friday, March 30. They begin Nescac play on April 6 and 7, when the Panthers travel to Amherst for a three-game series.

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Softball Aims at First Playoffs Appearance in Three Years