By Michael Otero
The softball team is looking to build on a successful 2015 campaign, during which they were 32-17-1. The Pioneers had a very strong showing in conference as well, going 22-6.
Just two years ago, the Pioneers were NCAA East Region Champions; the fourth time the Pioneers have held that honor since 2007. The head coach who is tagged with bringing the Pioneers back to the promised land is Jamie Apicella. When asked what the team could improve to take the next step, Apicella said, “Our emphasis all preseason has been to be a more contact conscious team and cut down on strikeouts. We also would like to improve our on base percentage and average more runs per game. Our offense was down in all categories last season and because of it our pitchers were under more pressure.” This sounds familiar. The Kansas City Royals, the team that won the 2015 World Series, sound like the epitome of the team Apicella wants to have this season. The Royals are a contact team to the heart and rarely swing and miss.
One of those pitchers under pressure last season was junior Ashley Martin. Martin was named the East Coast Conference Preseason Pitcher of the Year in early February. In 2015, Martin earned ECC Pitcher of the Year honors and Division II All-East Region first-team accolades; boasting an 18-6 record with a 1.61 earned-run average and 120 strikeouts.
Apicella’s desire for more runs is a legitimate one, and one that will no longer be on the shoulders of Aly Dzierzynski, who played her final season in 2015 and is now an assistant coach. In a Pioneer uniform, Dzierzynski accumulated a .346 lifetime average with 51 career home runs and 205 runs batted in. Her 51 career round trippers shattered the program mark set by Christie Softy from 2007-2010. Even though she is not a part of the action on the field anymore, Apicella still sees her as a valuable asset to the team. “Aly’s influence on our younger players has been very positive. Reason being she experienced everything a softball player can experience.” Dzierzynski’s softball resume includes: four NCAA appearances, a College World Series appearance and conference championships. Not too shabby.
The Pioneers have been a model of consistency since Apicella took over the program 17 seasons ago. They have reached 14 straight NCAA Division II Tournaments. Apicella says it’s because of the culture of the program. “The alumni and seniors that graduate continue to pass the key. They make it loud and clear what is expected from the younger players to keep the tradition going. Every member of this team understands that we expect their best on a daily basis.” Apicella has certainly got the best out of his players over the last 14 years.
Getting student-athletes to gel and mesh together is a challenge, but it’s one Apicella is up for. “Over the years we have not always had the most talented team. We have always recruited the ‘right fit’ player. Excellent student first, softball player second. We want student-athletes that have a strong work ethic and are goal oriented. We do not want studentathletes that cut corners and take the easy way out. All these characteristics make a true team. A team that will sacrifice and commit to one another to achieve a common goal.”
So what is that common goal? “To win the East Region and have a chance to play for a national championship.” Apicella said. “That goal will never change.”
The Pioneers’ season begins with a 10 game road trip in Clermont, Fl. that gets underway on Sunday, March 6, against the University of the Sciences. Their first home game is scheduled for Sunday, March 20, against Stonehill College. First-pitch is set for 11 a.m