The Pitt softball team will begin its fall schedule when the Panthers travel to Canfield, Ohio, to compete in the Youngstown State Fall Classic. There, the girls will compete in a double-header Sunday against Toledo and Kent State.
The current Pitt roster is almost identical to last season’s spring lineup. The only difference is the newly recruited freshmen and, of course, the loss of catcher Holly Stevens to graduation.
“It’s sad not being able to come back and play with a bunch of girls that I love so much,” Stevens said.
The team Stevens played on consisted of many girls who were new to playing at the collegiate level. One of these players was outfielder Tori Nirschl.
“My freshman year really showed me where my weaknesses were, and so this summer I focused a lot on those areas,” Nirschl said.
This year, Nirschl and the rest of the Panthers’ squad look to improve upon their record and overall performance. The team’s record last season was 19-29, having a higher winning percentage on the road.
With one season of play under their belts, the players now know what to expect from each other and their individual playing capabilities.
“It’s really exciting to play with the same girls again this year,” Nirschl said. “We’re already used to the team dynamic, and we’re all really comfortable with each other and get along really well.”
With this knowledge, fans should expect standout performances from Nirschl and others. Named the Big East Conference Rookie of the Year last season, Nirschl led the team in nearly every offensive category.
This season she hopes to replicate these feats going into future games.
“I worked really hard this past summer,” Nirschl said. “My fielding is a bit better and hitting wise,I just want to keep a driven mentality.”
Savannah King will serve as another leader for the team. Last season, King was dominant on the mound with a batting average of .229. She also tallied 27 hits and 13 RBI at the plate.
Despite the impressive numbers, King thought there was still room for improvement.
“I took this summer to improve on all my pitches while putting a new twist on a few and to improve my pitch selection at the plate,” King said. “I played in a college league on a team with mostly PAC-12 players, so it was definitely agood opportunity to work and improve my game.”
The first game the Panthers play will be against the Toledo Rockets. In similar fashion to the Panthers of last year, the Rockets will need to rebuild this year, as their three best batters — and overall best players — graduated.
Leading the squad this year will be junior outfielder Alyssa Smith, who topped the team in batting average (.305) and steals (14).
Following this game the Panthers will take on Kent State. Last year the Golden Flashes finished 27-21 and, like Pitt, saw more success on the road than at home: Kent State ended 2013 with a 8-4 home record and a 11-8 away record.
This year the team is led by senior shortstop Kim Kirkpatrick, who will prove to be a threat, as she also leads the team in batting average (.336), runs scored (28), hits (50), doubles (11), home runs (3), slugging percentage (.470) and on-base percentage (.448).
Pitt heads into these games with a strong mentality despite the records of the opposing teams records.
“We need to dominate,” King said. “It is a time for us to show what we have as a team, as well as learn what we need to improve on before the spring season.”