Tritons Rely on Rookies to Rejuvenate Squad

    The UCSD softball team features five new freshmen to replace graduated seniors including pitcher Melissa Ward, who was named to the All-West Region Second Team last season. (Erik Jepsen/Guardian File)

    SOFTBALL — With a perfect record two games into the fall season, the softball team has started off strong. The Tritons won both games of a double-header against Palomar College 6-4 and 2-0, and will host five more games this season. While the games in the fall season do not count in the overall standings, they are by no means unimportant.

    Last year’s team had its share of ups and downs. The Tritons had an impressive regular season run, winning 32 games and climbing as high as No. 8 in the national standings. However, the team was upset in the opening game of the NCAA Division-II West Regional Championships, losing 6-4 to Cal State Dominguez Hills. Top-seeded Humboldt State University later eliminated the Tritons 3-1. Even though last season did not end with UCSD hoisting a trophy, the team made strides throughout the campaign and looks to make this season even better, working hard in practice and playing hard in the fall season games.

    Improvement is the name of the game during the fall season. Head coach Patti Gerckens stressed the importance of building fundamental skills and overall team play in preparation for the regular season. This season, the team has the challenge of filling the hole left by five recently graduated seniors. Replacing the contributions of the seniors both on and off the field will be tough, but Gerckens has faith in the team this year.

    “The seniors we lost will be very hard to replace,” she said. “We are looking for good leadership and with time we will be OK.”

    Along with new leaders stepping up, the Tritons are constantly polishing and refining their skills.

    “We emphasize simple hitting and simple pitching,” Gerckens said. “We are trying to improve their fundamentals and help them develop muscle memory.”

    Three new pitchers and two new fielders came in this season to help fill the senior void. The freshmen will have to learn how to mesh with the rest of the older members of the team, as well as adjust to competition at the collegiate level.

    Upperclassmen are also looking to use the fall season to their advantage, however. Junior catcher Nicole Saari is ready to improve upon a season in which she started all 56 games for the Tritons after being named the California Collegiate Athletic Association Freshman of the Year in her first season. To her, the fall games are all about becoming more proficient, coming together as a team and getting pumped for the upcoming season.

    “I want to get better at hitting and make sure no balls get past me,” Saari said.

    Expectations are high as the Tritons have set lofty goals for themselves.

    “I want to get to the playoffs and go to nationals this year,” Saari said.

    Gerckens is happy with what they has seen from the players.

    “They have done a lot of good things,” Gerckens said. “They have a lot of promise but also a lot of work to do.”

    The two victories in the fall games have been a collective team effort. With a solid returning group from last season, along with some fresh faces, the Triton softball team is ready to make the 2008-09 season one to remember.

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