Preview: Softball Looks to Flip Gloves, Script

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Before every game, the Muhlenberg softball team likes to play some of its own games. Icebreakers called “watermelon” and “flip glove” are two of its favorites.

“We are a little weird, I have to admit,” senior Colleen O’Donnell said. “We are a fun group. We like to laugh and stay loose, but we are also a very serious team, and I think that is to our advantage.”

Erica Wenzel
With 99 career runs scored, Wenzel is 17 away from breaking the school record.
After a record-setting 2013, the Mules, who open their season Saturday in Florida against St. Benedict, are serious about being even better this time around.

Muhlenberg set a school record for all sports by winning 31 games, starting 9-0 and closing the regular season with a 10-game streak. The Mules, who defeated six NCAA Tournament teams and received votes in the national poll for the first time in over 20 years, captured the Centennial Conference crown by a record-tying four games and earned hosting rights for the league tournament for the first time.

A sweet season, however, ended on a sour note when Muhlenberg was eliminated a game short of the championship round. The Mules, who were picked second in the preseason poll (one vote behind defending champion Washington), are eager to flip the script.

“We take it as a learning experience,” O’Donnell said. “The win record was a great accomplishment, but we had a lot of younger kids on the team and maybe we didn’t know quite how to handle the playoffs. But we learned a lot from that and we’ll take it into this year.

“We’re ready to move forward. We have a lot of great players back, and we’ve been together for a while. We’re pretty excited.”

Having six All-CC honorees back in the fold gives the Mules plenty of reasons for optimism.

Senior co-captain Kelly Kline, the 2012 CC player of the year, anchors the infield from her first base spot. A second-team selection last season, Kline led the team with a .412 average, six homers and 42 RBI and is already the program’s all-time leader in home runs (21), extra-base hits (53) and RBI (118).

Fellow senior co-captain Erica Wenzel is coming off a productive year at second base. She hit .273 with eight doubles and 23 RBI (third on the team) to earn All-CC first-team laurels. O’Donnell (team-high nine doubles) and sophomore Alexis Giovinazzo (13 RBI) will also see plenty of action in the infield.

Sophomore Brittany Dzieciolowski returns to handle the catching duties after a stellar rookie campaign. The team’s second-leading hitter, Dzieciolowski (.356, two homers, 24 RBI) finished with a .396 average in CC play.

Kelly Kline
Kline brings a career average of .388 into her senior season.
Junior Alyssa Schell (second team) and sophomore Taylor Trifiolis (honorable mention), both All-CC honorees a year ago, return to their starting spots in the outfield. Schell finished third on the team with a .324 average, while Trifiolis hit .280 and drove in 19 runs. Sophomore Nicole Iannarone made nine starts, scoring 14 runs and stealing six bases.

Sophomore Amie DeFeo and junior Jamie Klotz appear primed for larger roles in the outfield after making 20 and 25 appearances, respectively, a year ago.

“We have a lot of strong players up and down our lineup – in the infield, outfield and pitching staff,” O’Donnell said. “There is a lot of competition within the team, which makes for a great dynamic.”

Back to head the pitching staff is junior co-captain Kelsey Jones, already one of the most accomplished hurlers in school history. The reigning CC co-pitcher of the year dazzled in 2013, going 17-4 with a 2.51 ERA and setting program records for wins and innings pitched (150.1) and equaling the mark for complete games (20). Jones also threw the program’s first perfect game against Misericordia.

Junior Heather Porrini has made major strides on the mound. She went 4-1 with a team-leading 2.42 ERA in 11 games (six starts), lowering her freshman-year ERA by more than two and a half runs.

Back in Florida a year after their first-ever undefeated spring trip, the Mules hope to start this new campaign on the right foot. If nothing else, they’ll finally get to experience some warm weather. Though the temperatures back home might take a while to rise, Muhlenberg, which won the conference title in 2011, is looking to start the year hot – and finish that way in their quest to capture another CC crown.

“Our field is covered in snow, so we are so excited to go play on actual dirt and grass and get out in the sun,” O’Donnell said. “We’re all a little stir crazy, and cabin fever has set in.

“We’re more motivated than ever to go out with a bang,” O’Donnell added. “We want to keep striving to be better than the year before, and a championship is our goal. A lot of former players have told us we’re the team that can bring it home, so we’re going for bigger and better things.”