The Coleumn: Why the UConn Softball team will win the Big East Conference

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The UConn Huskies Baseball team take on the University of Rhode Island Rams at a 1pm game on Saturday Oct. 16 at Elliot Ballpark in Storrs. The Huskies beat the Rams 5-2. Last season, Huskies was just one win away from their first Big East Championship since 2001. Photo by Erin Knapp/Daily Campus

Last season, the UConn softball team was one win away from its first Big East Championship since 2001. It had to win one of two games against Villanova, a team it had beaten in the opening round 4-3. 

However, Villanova redeemed itself with dominating performances from Big East Pitcher and Player of the Year Paige Rauch. Villanova went on to the Tucson Regional where it bowed out to Ole Miss in the loser’s bracket final. 

This season, the Huskies are projected to finish third in the conference behind DePaul and Villanova, the two teams that provided the Huskies’ only Big East series losses last year. Led by third-year head coach Laura Valentino, the Huskies know what it takes to win. 

The first thing that jumps out is the team’s speed. The Huskies stole 88 bases on 104 attempts, shattering the old record from 1996. Four players finished with 10+ steals on the season, with contributions from several others as well. Two of those players, graduate student Brianna Marcelino and senior Aziah James, had 18 steals apiece on 40 attempts combined.  

That slides perfectly with the talent this team has to offer. Out of its entire starting lineup, only graduate student Devon Casazza is not returning. The Huskies have three options to fill her shoes: Those three are sophomore Lauren Benson, sophomore Madisyn Estorga and Monmouth transfer and graduate student Erika Coreth.  

Benson made 31 appearances, batting .165 with 13 hits. Look for her to have a big year. Estorga batted .316 in 13 games but proved her worth every time she came to the plate. Coreth batted .359 with five home runs and 27 RBIs for the Hawks last season while making the All-MAAC Second Team. 

The left side of the infield is loaded, led by Big East Freshman of the Year Jana Sanden. The All-Big East First Team member batted .336 with a .597 slugging percentage and eight home runs. Expect her to have another monster season covering the shortstop position. 

Marcelino handles the third base position well, batting .320 and hitting seven home runs. In addition, she provides the Gold Glove plays in the infield, which is big piece to have back in the heart of the lineup.  

Redshirt senior Sami Barnett has taken control of first base. She missed some games due to injury but proved her worth batting .282 with a .474 slugging percentage. Second base belonged to senior Emily Piergustavo, but don’t be surprised to see sophomore Makenzie Mason and/or junior Makenzie Fitzpatrick covering the four-spot as well. 

From the transfer portal, the Huskies added sophomore Giuliana Abruscato. Abruscato, a Binghamton transfer, is a utility player who made six starts in eight games for the Wildcats last season. Compared to her time in Binghamton, expect her to see an increased role with the Huskies. 

Some other names that will cover the infield this season include sophomore Taylor Zatyk, sophomore Rileigh De Weese and graduate student Olivia Sappington. Sappington did not play last season due to injury while the other two saw great opportunities. 

The infield is fast, but the outfield is faster. In addition to James’ speed, graduate student Reese Guevarra returns to lead the charge. Guevarra batted .346 and her incredible speed both on the bases and in the outfield is critical to the Huskies’ success this season. 

James and Guevarra are a dynamic duo with their speed and left-handed batting abilities. Add redshirt senior Hollis Wivell and it gets even better. Like Guevarra and James, Wivell brings the speed, stealing 13 bases on 16 attempts.  

Recruiting-wise, the Huskies added infielder Rosie Garcia and Lexi Hastings. Garcia comes from Palmdale, California, where she recently spent time on several travel softball teams, hitting over .400 in at least two of them. Hastings is from Winterville, North Carolina, where she was a Second Team Outfielder of the Seminole district, a team captain and remarkable sprinter. 

This team is more than its hitting, it’s about its lethal pitching core as well.  

Sophomore Payton Kinney is the ace, flashing her potential from day one. Kinney played in 30 games, going 11-11 with a 2.99 ERA while striking out 135 batters. Her seven complete games are a testament to her durability, and she consistently got the job done. 

The UConn Huskies Baseball team take on the University of Rhode Island Rams at a 1pm game on Saturday Oct. 16 at Elliot Ballpark in Storrs. The Huskies beat the Rams 5-2. Last season marked their first almost win in the Big East Championship since 2001. Photo by Erin Knapp/Daily Campus

The number two arm was junior Meghan O’Neil. The southpaw played in 34 games, going 10-7 with eight complete games and 80 strikeouts. She was heavily relied on last season and stepped up big with a 3.35 ERA. 

Graduate student Marybeth Olson made seven critical appearances late in the 2021 season after recovering from an injury. In seven games, Olson struck out 32 batters, showing she’s got some gas in the tank left. 

The Huskies had three pitchers on their roster last year and solved any depth issues by recruiting two more. Delaney Nagy hails from Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, where she was a captain for her high school’s softball team and a Second Team All-State pitcher. She is a right-handed arm, which will come out of the bullpen. 

Elise Sokolsky comes from Centerton, Arkansas, where she did not get to play a senior season due to COVID-19. As the No. 62 pitcher of the Class of 2021, this right-handed pitcher brings a dangerous arm that could leave hitters baffled. 

The team’s schedule starts with a month-long road trip to four different invitationals against D-1 opponents and two Big East series before a home opener against Army on March 23. That stretch will build its toughness. 

If everything goes well, the Huskies are going to be a problem for the conference come March and April. With the team hungry for revenge and all but one of its core players returning, the time is right for the Huskies to take back the Big East. 

1 COMMENT

  1. While this article highlights the softball team well, all of the photos used are of the baseball team. Why were photos of the softball team not used? This seems like a careless mistake, and I would argue you would never use photos of the softball team for the baseball team. Additionally, many of these facts are incorrect, and simply reading the player bios on the roster would fix this. Be better, do better.

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