BOSTON, Mass. - The Simmons College softball team was one game away from winning the Great Northeast Athletic Conference championship a year ago and heads into the 2015 season looking for another shot at the crown.
The Sharks return all but two starters and 20 of 22 letterwinners from a squad that batted .316 as a team a year ago. Simmons returns all three of its pitchers from last season as well. Fielding an experienced club that knows how to win is a huge advantage going into any season and the rest of the league is respectful of the Sharks' potential as evidenced by a second place ranking in the 2015 GNAC Pre-Season Coaches Poll. Although Simmons lost a big bat from last year's lineup, the program also added three newcomers, including a player who could make an impact right away.
The Sharks could have the best double play combination in the league with senior Captain Hannah Cunningham (Cotuit, Mass.) and junior Captain Mikaela Caracciolo (North Attleboro, Mass.) back to shore up the middle infield. Cunningham hit a solid .295 (31-105) last year and started all 31 games she appeared in. The shortstop serves as a spark in the lineup as the leadoff hitter and scored 30 runs to place second on the squad a year ago. A Third Team All-Conference selection in 2014, the senior has excellent range in the hole and is an outstanding all-around player. Caracciolo enjoyed a breakout season that many players dream about and was rewarded by being named an All-Northeast Region Third Team selection. The junior did what good two-hitters do -- get on base. The left-handed hitter grabbed everyone's attention with a .532 on-base percentage, which was good for second among GNAC leaders and led the league with a .484 (30-62) batting mark in conference games as part of an overall .438 (46-105) batting average. Caracciolo's discerning eye at the plate paid dividends with a team-high 21 walks, which contributed to a team-leading 35 runs scored. She also showed some pop from her table-setting spot in the lineup with 14 extra-base hits, including 11 doubles to fuel an impressive .619 slugging percentage and knocked in 22 runs. The second baseman got it done with the glove as well, committing just five errors in 131 chances around the bag.
Simmons has a number of options at the corner infield spots. Alaina DeNoncour (Johnston, R.I.) will look for time at third base after starting 27 of 30 games a year ago. The senior batted .265 in 83 at-bats and drove in 17 runs to go with a solid .351 on-base mark. She should see time in the middle of the Sharks' order. DeNoncour has been a starter since her first year of college ball and has an accurate rifle for an arm to go with the ability to knock the ball down around the hot corner. Kat Guillotte (New Bedford, Mass.) will again split time at third base in 2015. The sophomore was very productive in 38 plate appearances over 18 games last year, hitting .333 (10-30), while scoring nine times and stealing three bases in as many attempts. A defensive stalwart with quick reflexes and a strong arm, Guillotte made just one error in 35 chances. She covers bunts well and could also get time at first base. Jess Uschmann (Feeding Hills, Mass.) will compete for action at first base as well. The senior drew starts in 23 of 26 games last year, batting .231 (15-65), but added 12 bases on balls to boost her on-base percentage to a respectable .351. Uschmann proved to be a valuable hitter in key situations, rising to the challenge with a .310 (9-29) batting mark with runners in scoring position. In her limited time at first base, she's shown a knack for digging throws out of the dirt and is not afraid to get dirty. First year Juliet Nelson (Cumberland, R.I.) was an All-State selection in high school and will also challenge for significant time at first base when not in the pitching circle. She's a good hitter with some power and could be used in the middle of the Simmons lineup.
Janyne Sierra (Everett, Mass.) made the most of limited action last season, hitting .375 (6-16) in 10 games, while owning a .412 on-base percentage. The sophomore is an aggressive hitter with a good approach at the plate and could also get at-bats at the designated hitter spot. She has a strong arm and could see time at either middle infield position. Carolyn Footer (Wiscasset, Maine) has shown great improvement as she begins her second season with the Sharks. She's worked hard on her conditioning and in the weight room and will look for time at third base.
Heather White (Westfield, Mass.) returns to patrol center field and bat in the heart of the order for Simmons in 2015. The junior Captain earned Third Team All-Region honors after placing third in the league with 36 runs batted in to go with a .375 (45-120) batting clip. White's plate discipline and ability to hit with power makes her a very dangerous hitter when you factor that she rarely strikes out as shown by a rate of just one punchout per 16.3 plate appearances and owned a .550 slugging percentage as a result of four home runs, a triple and seven doubles. She has good instincts in the field, a strong arm and covers a lot of ground. Flanking White will be Jen Field (Windham, Maine) in left field. The senior has good leadership ability and started all 28 contests she appeared in. She hit a robust .352 (25-71) and posted a .439 on-base percentage at the plate. The lefty slapper will hit at the bottom of the order with the ability to lay down a bunt or poke an occasional double. She scored 15 times and drove in 10 runs, while swiping six bases.
Brianna Rastello (Salem, N.H.) will look to build on a fantastic first season that saw her hit .348 (16-46) and post a .412 on-base average. Rastello scored 15 runs, while starting 12 of 23 games and struck out just eight times in 51 plate appearances. She saw time in the middle infield last year, but will make the move to the outfield in 2015. The sophomore could see time in right field, where the Sharks can take advantage her strong arm. She also gets a good read on the ball off the bat and can cover a lot of ground. Rastello's versatility will enable her to see action at shortstop as well. Emma D'Arpino (Johnston, R.I.) will see the bulk of her time in left field, but could also see action in center. The sophomore produced at the plate when called upon last season, hitting .324 (11-34) in 16 contests from the left side. The southpaw also registered a .368 on-base percentage and could also be used as a DP to keep her bat in the lineup. She should keep the defense guessing with her ability to slap or hit for power. She is fundamentally sound and gets to a lot of balls in the outfield on the defensive side. Katie Nosky (Dedham, Mass.) will vie for more opportunities to crack the starting lineup this season after seeing action in nine games a year ago, while making a pair of starts. She worked hard in the off season and has improved her offensive game to try and earn more at-bats as a spot starter in right field. The sophomore is fundamentally sound and tracks the ball well. Kayla Padroff (Southington, Conn.) is a good athlete with raw talent and valuable speed, who could see action in both the outfield and the middle infield. Her speed makes her a candidate to pinch run as well.
Simmons has a number of players, who will add depth and be utilized to pinch run as well. Amy Maher (Milton, Mass.) had her number called 24 times last year to either play a corner outfield spot or pinch run. The junior has good speed and will be one of the first options off the bench when a runner is needed. Tanya Stasio (Revere, Mass.) saw time in eight games last year and could see time in the outfield or as a pinch runner. The sophomore takes good angles on the ball in the field and is an aggressive runner on the base paths. MacKenzie Hayman (Veazie, Maine) works hard and has shown improvement. She got a taste of collegiate play with action in four games as a rookie. The sophomore is a good team player, who could be used as a pinch-runner.
The Sharks have a one-two punch behind the plate in 2015 with Victoria Luongo (Medford, Mass.) handling the majority of the duties and Alison Gauvin (Whitefield, Maine), who will look to increase her role this season after showing great improvement. Luongo owned a .367 on-base percentage, reaching base 11 times via hit, walk or being hit by a pitch in 31 plate appearances and 27 games. The signal caller possesses great poise and shined when it counted in the batter's box last year, going 5-12 with runners in scoring position for a .417 clip. The senior is an excellent receiver behind the plate, who works well with the pitching staff and calls a good game. She was mistake free in the field, handling 146 chances without a miscue, including eight assists. Gauvin has a strong arm and is not afraid to throw behind runners and keep them honest on the base paths. The sophomore started 10 of 11 contests last year and is a good communicator, who makes good decisions and takes charge behind the dish.
Lauren Backhaus (Windsor, Conn.) leads a deep pitching staff that will give opponents a lot of different looks. The ace turned in a sensational year last season, posting a sparkling 1.61 earned run average, while holding the opposition to a .220 (113-513) batting mark. The senior was a big reason for the Sharks' success, posting an impressive 15-4 record, while striking out 127 batters in 135 innings. A Third Team All-Region recipient last year, she has increased her velocity each season and works both sides of the plate well. She issued just 42 free passes to help limit the number of hitters she faced and aid her ability to go deep into games as evidenced by 13 complete games in 2014.
Amanda Cordeiro (Fall River, Mass.) is one of the most respected pitchers on the staff and will be looked upon for her knowledge and leadership. The senior mixes her pitches well and has the ability to deceive hitters with exceptional movement on her pitches. She will be used as both a starter and reliever. Danielle LeBlanc (Templeton, Mass.) enjoyed success in her first collegiate season, recording a 5-1 record, while compiling a 2.85 ERA in 41 innings pitched. The sophomore hurled a pair of shutouts and held batters to a .247 average. LeBlanc has great poise and the mentality to come into games as a reliever and could get the call in most save situations. The finesse pitcher posted a stingy 1.50 earned run average in six relief appearances and limited hitters to a .224 mark in 12 innings.
Nelson's biggest contribution to the squad is expected to come from the pitching circle, when she's not playing first base. The rookie has good velocity, changes speeds well and uses all of her pitches effectively. A smart pitcher, she will see time as both a starter and reliever. Classmate Cat Record (North Adams, Mass.) will give opposing hitters a different look, coming into games as a reliever. She will look to improve as she gains more experience at the collegiate level.
With so much experience and a roster loaded with talented upper classmen, expectations are high for Simmons in 2015.