Feb. 27 – BETHANY, W. Va. – After narrowly missing the Presidents’ Athletic Conference postseason by one game a year ago, the Bethany softball team will look to bounce back and once again make a run at their 14th conference crown.
“It has been a great offseason for us so far,” remarked head coach Jan Forsty. “We have a lot of really talented players coming back this year, and even though it is a younger group, it is definitely a group of players that is not short on experience.”
Along with assistant coach Ashley Marinacci, who was a four-time All-PAC selection with the Bison, Coach Forsty has added another former standout to her coaching staff. Emily Jump, who was also a four-time all-conference honoree, has joined the staff after a stellar pitching career for Bethany.
“Emily brings a lot to the table and will be in charge of coaching the pitching staff,” remarked Forsty. “Her knowledge of the PAC and the teams and hitters that we will be facing, will really give us an advantage when it comes to playing our conference opponents.
“It is nice to have two assistant coaches that I can trust completely to make great decisions out there on the field, and that is what we have with both Ashley and Emily.”
Leading the way for the Bison in 2014 will be returning outfielder Kayla Kelly (Pasadena, Md./Institute of Notre Dame). As a freshman last year, Kelly earned a Second-Team All-PAC selection, leading the team in stolen bases and ranking second on the roster in batting average (.371).
“Kayla will be the anchor of our outfield this season,” remarked Coach Forsty. “She did some wonderful things for us as a freshman, and with the work that she put in in the offseason we expect even bigger things from her this season.”
Last year, Kelly totaled 39 hits, 14 RBI and ranked second on the team in runs scored, crossing the plate 31 times during the 2013 campaign.
Around the horn, the Bison return most of their starters from a year ago, including short stop Jessica Kusnierz (New Castle, Pa./Shenango). Kusnierz was a figure of consistency at short for the Bison a year ago, making 37 starts for the Green & White.
Last season, Kusnierz earned Honorable Mention All-PAC status, leading the team in runs scored (33) and ranking second on the team in doubles and home runs. She also hit .287 on the year, adding nine RBI to her totals.
“Jessica had a great year for us last season,” said Forsty of her returning short stop. “She will bring great veteran leadership to the middle infield for us this season, and we expect good things from her both offensively and defensively.”
At first base, sophomore Deanna Mihalco (Patterson, N.Y./Brewster) and junior Kelsey Bish (Landisville, Pa./Hempfield) could both see time. Mihalco made 20 starts for Bethany a year ago, posting a .283 batting average with 14 RBI. Bish, who also pitched in 16 games last season, made 11 starts in the infield, hitting .308 on the year.
Other Bison who could see time at first base include senior Lauren Wiegman (Nanty Glo, Pa./Blacklick Valley), sophomore Rebecca Stage (Pittsburgh, Pa./Upper St. Clair) and freshman Shelby Adams (Muse, Pa./Canon McMillan).
At second base, seniors Ashlee Needy (Chicago, Ill./Marist) and Candace Pacheco (Fall River, Mass./B.M.C. Durfee) as well as sophomore Ashlee Brill (Lancaster, Ohio/Lancaster) and freshman Kylee Clark (Heath, Ohio/Lakewood), could all see time. While at third base, fans can expect to see both junior Emili Garretson (Winfield, W. Va./Winfield) as well as freshman Sarah Coss (Bowie, Md./Bishop McNamara).
Along with Kelly, junior Kadie Kelly (Royal Oak, Md./St. Michaels) sophomores Brill, T.J. Solomon (Beltsville, Md./Elizabeth Seton) and Sam Newfrock (Endwell, N.Y./Union Endicott), as well as freshman Kaitlin Tropf (Mayfield Heights, Ohio/Mayfield), could all see substantial playing time in the outfield.
“We are extremely balanced in the outfield right now,” remarked Coach Forsty. “Anyone of our outfielders could step out onto the field and contribute in a big way. It is a great asset to have as many talented players that can play any of the three positions out there.”
With the departure of Jump from the rotation, the Bison pitching staff will look to junior Kiersten Conwell (Washington, Pa./Chartiers Houston) to be the back bone of the rotation in 2014. Conwell has won seven games in each of her first two seasons with the Bison and posted a team-best 72 strikeouts while pitching nine complete games a year ago.
“Conwell is someone that we are expecting to step up in a big way this year,” commented Forsty of her ace. “She has progressively gotten better over the past two seasons, and with the chance to be the number one starter, we believe that she is more than capable of doing big things for us."
Other pitchers that could play a factor in the rotation include Bish, Garretson and Kadie Kelly. Bish made 16 appearances in 2013, posting a team-best 2.97 ERA in 35.1 innings of work. She allowed opponents to hit just .254 while striking out 28 on the year.
No matter who is on the mound, a familiar face will likely be behind the dish, as sophomore Marissa Bosley (New Martinsville, W. Va./Magnolia) is back at catcher. As a freshman in 2013, Bosley made 35 starts as a battery mate to the pitching staff last season, and registered 161 putouts while committing just three errors.
“Bosley is someone who really came into her own last season,” remarked Forsty. “Despite being in just her second season, we feel that she has a good understanding of the game, and will be able to help control what the pitchers are trying to do out there.”
Other players that could see time at catcher for the Bison include Mihalco as well as freshmen Sarah Coss (Bowie, Md./Bishop McNamara) and Savannah Francis (South Park, Pa./South Park).
“Just missing out on the PAC Championship tournament last season has really made the women focused and ready to get back and play for a title,” commented Coach Forsty on her team’s mindset for the upcoming campaign. “We have been working really hard all season, and every player has the mindset to play for the woman next to them. We are really excited to get out on the field and see where we stand.”
The Bison will open the 2014 campaign on Saturday and Sunday, March 1 and 2, as the team will travel to Virginia Beach, Va. to take part in the 2014 Beach Blast hosted by Virginia Wesleyan. Bethany’s first home contest of the season will be on March 26 against Marietta and the team will open their PAC schedule on March 29 at Chatham.