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2015 Softball Season Preview: Pioneers open season Feb. 28 in Florida

Feb. 27, 2015

Senior pitcher Megan Dyer and the entire Point Park pitching staff return for the 2015 season.


PITTSBURGH -- The Point Park University softball team opens up its 2015 season this weekend at the NTC Spring Games in Clermont, Fla., where it will play 12 games over the course of a week. It is a key time for the Pioneers, who are in a much different spot than when they embarked on the same trip exactly one year ago.

"Last year, when we went to Florida, we were looking to find out who are starters were going to be," said Point Park ninth-year head coach Michelle Coultas. "This year, we know who are starters are going to be, we have a lot of returning players and a lot of seniors. We are going there this year looking to get on top of our game and get off to a great start right from the beginning of the season.

"We have a hungry team this year," added Coultas. "This is the hardest we've worked in the preseason. We want to make sure that we come back strong after the way last season ended. Every game counts, and we want to build that winning attitude. Winning is something that you have to learn how to do and not take it for granted. It is something that we are setting out to do this year."

The Pioneers were picked this preseason to finish third in the KIAC Preseason Coaches' Poll behind defending conference champion IU Southeast and KIAC newcomer Rio Grande.

Last year didn't have a great start as the Pioneers were 2-6 on their annual trip to Florida. It was a rebuilding year after having lost six seniors from the previous year and six others the year before that. There were many players who were in starting roles for the first time.

After an adjustment period, the Pioneers played their best ball during conference play and ended the year at 26-17 overall. Point Park was 19-8 in the KIAC, which earned a second-place finish in the regular-season conference standings. But just like the beginning of last year was disappointing, so was the ending.

The Pioneers bowed out of the KIAC Tournament with an 0-2 showing as the No. 2 seed in the eight-team tournament. Fortunately for the players who are returning, this year they have a chance to make sure the season ends up differently.

One player who will not get another chance at that is departed senior Ashley Morran, the most significant loss for the Pioneers. The two-time NAIA Honorable Mention All-American shortstop and 2013 KIAC Player of the Year hit .363 with 40 HRs and 174 RBIs in 166 games as a four-year starter. Gone are here .364 average, 14 doubles, 11 HRs and 47 RBIs from a year ago.

But the Pioneers have many players returning as Morran is one of just three positional starters who must be replaced. The six returning starters in the batter order include everywhere but shortstop, catcher and left field. On the mound, Point Park returns all four starting pitchers and all five of its pitchers overall. It is an experienced Pioneers roster as nine of the 19 players on the squad are seniors.

One of the spots in need of a replacement in the starting lineup, left field, will get a boost from a player who was out injured last year but was a star freshman in 2012. Taylor Geary, a sophomore from South Allegheny HS, missed last year due to a knee injury. But she is back and ready to build on an outstanding freshman season of a .420 batting average with 10 doubles, 5 HRs and 31 RBIs two years ago as a All-KIAC selection.

Another All-KIAC bat that is returning is senior first baseman Karen Mao, from Anaheim, Calif. She is in her second year with the Pioneers after transferring from Clarendon JC. She was an immediate starter for Point Park last year and hit .375 with 11 extra-base hits and 31 RBIs from the middle of the Pioneers' order.

Returning as the starter at third base is senior Gabi Vogt, from McKeesport, Pa., and South Allegheny HS. She hit .351 with 25 RBIs last year as the Pioneers' No. 3 hitter in the order. She also drew a team-high 18 walks and led the Pioneers with a .446 on-base percentage.

Sophomore Alyssa McMurtrie returns as the starting center fielder. As a freshman, she was the only player other than Morran to start all 43 games. The Montour High School product batted .282 from the leadoff spot. She provided speed with a team-high seven stolen bases but also gave power as 18 of her 42 hits went for extra bases with eight doubles, six triples and four homers. She was third in the team with 28 RBIs.

Senior Natalie Zivic returns as the starter at second base for the second year in a row. The Avonworth HS graduate batted .262 and drove in 18 runs last season. A strong glove on the infield, she had a .947 fielding percentage as a junior.

Senior Nikki Eagan got most of the starts at designated player last year, and she is back with her .257 average and 16 RBIs.

Also back in the starting fold is sophomore Becca Babincak, a Deer Lakes HS grad, who broke into the starting lineup midway through last season. Babincak will start at shortstop for Point Park this year although she saw her time at right field a year ago. Babincak hit .425 with 2 HR and 8 RBIs in 28 games last year.

At catcher, Point Park has graduated a senior starter each of the last two years. But now the Pioneers look to another senior, Lauren Fevola from Plano, Texas. She has split time behind the plate her first three years and is a career .224 hitter with 2 HR and 15 RBIs in 47 games.

A newcomer at catcher who is expected to make a big impact for the Pioneers is freshman Jess Beitler. The McKeesport, Pa., native has a strong bat that Coultas would like to get in the lineup at DP when she is not behind the plate. She was one of the Pioneers' top hitters in the preseason.

The right field job is senior Audrey Eisentrout's. The Cumberland, Md., native and converted pitcher hit .261 in 12 games last year and produced 2 HRs and 6 RBIs in just 23 at bats. Also on the depth chart in right field are freshmen Cary Rosso from Steel Valley HS and Shania James of Forth Hill HS in Cumberland, Md.

A top sub on the infield is freshman Brittney Fisher, who is listed as a backup at third base and shortstop. Haley Wisniewski, a junior from North Allegheny HS, is the backup at second base. She had two hits and two RBIs in her only three at bats last season.

Point Park's pitching staff is entirely intact from a year ago. And the staff will once again be a group effort with all members of the staff needing to collectively play their part rather than just one or two aces carrying the bulk of the load.

"I feel really good about our pitching," said Coultas. "It was a bit of an adjustment last year for everyone learning their roles. But now everyone knows their role, which is that they all have to do their part. I don't know that we have the pitcher who can go seven strong innings for a complete game, which was the same case last year. It will be a group effort to get us through games or a series. That's fine, and it has worked, it's just that the pitchers have to work as a team."

Senior right-hander Megan Dyer led Point Park with 17 starts last year, but she battled injuries throughout the season. Now healthy, she heads the Pioneers' rotation coming off a 2014 season that had her go 9-6 with a 3.38 ERA in a team-high 91 innings. She was a standout player on the junior college level before her first year at Point Park of 2014.

Junior right-hander Hannah Harley had a strong year last year as her 8-3 record and 3.55 ERA earned her a spot on the All-KIAC team. She logged 75 innings and 11 starts, both second on the team to Dyer. She came on strong after the Florida trip winning eight straight decisions.

Senior Kate Reese is back for her fourth year on the pitching staff. Like Dyer, she battled injuries last year and ended up 5-4 with a 3.12 ERA in 14 games, eight of which came as a starter. Reese has shown in her career an ability to be a starter or a reliever, something that has come in handy many times and will again this year. She picked up two saves last year.

The final part of the main stable of pitchers is senior Sarah Urchek. She led Point Park with a 2.38 ERA and a team-best ratio of 25 strikeouts to eight walks last year. Most of her work came out of the bullpen with 14 of her 20 appearances as a reliever. But she is also capable as a starter with one complete game put up last year.

The fifth and final pitcher on the staff is sophomore Michaela Lewis-Lambert, who was 1-0 and pitched four innings as a freshman. She put together a 3.50 ERA and made one start.

Follow the Pioneers this season on the Point Park athletics website beginning with the NTC Spring Games Feb. 28-March 6 in Clermont, Fla. Follow the Pioneers on Twitter @PointParkSports and Facebook.com/PointParkAthletics