Penn State softball coach Robin Petrini has a veteran squad, but she’s hoping the Nittany Lions start the season with a little bit of amnesia.
Penn State is coming off a tough 18-32 mark last season, a campaign that most would like to forget.
With eight defensive starters returning, plus an influx of eight freshmen, Petrini hopes that the Nittany Lions can make a complete turnaround from a year ago.
“Everybody has a memory and we’ve talked about losing your memory,” said Petrini, who begins her 17th season at the helm of the program Friday when the Nittany Lions face Colorado State at the New Mexico State tournament. “The difference this year is that the freshmen that we’ve brought in have added so much to our roster. These are kids who are ready to compete and be on the field right now. I’ve got to figure out.”
“As seniors we talked (Tuesday) and talked about how to move forward from last season and how to get a winning season,” senior first baseman Kailyn Johnson added. “Definitely having a freshman class with eight and wanting them to be there and wanting to win, it really helps us and keeps us motivated.”
Freshman catcher Karlie Habitz is listed in the starting lineup for Friday. Reina Faruya (IF), Lexi Knief (IF), Christy Von Pusch (P), Macy Jones (P/Utility) and Taylor Abeta (OF) are pushing the veterans for playing time.
“We have more depth this year than we’ve had in many years, so we’re excited looking forward,” Petrini said.
Petrini believes the strength of the team will come on offense and she returns record-setting center fielder Cassidy Bell. The senior broke a 24-year-old school mark by batting .423 last season. The first team All-Big Ten player nine homers and had 16 extra-base hits.
Petrini is also looking for some pop from Johnson, a senior first baseman who struggled last season, but led the team with a .326 average and 29 RBIs as a sophomore.
Second baseman Lauren Yao and catcher/third baseman Kasie Hatfield each batted more than .250 with 20 or more RBIs.
Petrini is looking for consistency through the lineup. “There’s a couple of kids that sometime they have big weekends and sometimes they don’t, so we’re going to find out how the rest of them shake out,” she said.
The good thing is that lineup will feature several players who have longball potential.
“I think we have more kids this year who are capable of hitting it out than we ever have,” Petrini said. “That’s how we were four or five years ago. We had 5, 6, 7, kids who were giving us 4, 5, or 6 plus home runs. In practice we have a lot of different players hitting the ball out. That’s fun.”
The question mark is in the circle. Sophomore Marissa Diescher (5-9, 5.52 ERA) and junior Jordan Wheatley (1-3, 4.73) return.
“I think it might be pitching by committee which has been always been my philosophy anyway,” Petrini said. “I think that the kids that we have on the roster are good. It’s getting them to be consistently good. I’ve seen spots of brilliance in practice. Our pitching could become one of our strengths.”
The pitching will get an immediate test this weekend with five games against four teams.
“We’re excited to get out there,” Petrini said. “New Mexico State is a good opening weekend for our pitchers. We need to keep the ball down because the air is thin. For our offense, it’s great.”
Penn State won’t open at home until March 29 with a three-game series against Michigan. The Lady Lions were 10-4 at home last season.
“We need to play the whole season at home,” Petrini said.
Johnson says there’s definitely a difference playing at Nittany Lion Softball Park.
“(It’s) the atmosphere, the fans being there, the field is amazing,” she said. “I don’t know. It’s just everything. I do wish we played more there. It’s like a totally different game when we play at home.”
Follow Walt Moody on Twitter @wmoodycdt