Softball Sluggers Prepare to Defend New Home

St. John’s University softball will open up its 2002 season knowing they have a newly constructed field after spending most of the 2001 season on the road.

Ending last season with a 30-31 record, the Red Storm hopes to push past .500, which might allow them to make post-season competition.

“This year, we are the strongest we’ve been, but we must overcome obstacles like the injuries to our two starting pitchers,” said Head Coach Melody Cope.

The two returning starting pitchers for the Red Storm, Courtney Fitzgerald and Kate Cucciniello, recently underwent major surgery.

Their recovery times might allow them to return to play by the start of Big East competition in mid-March. Fitzgerald pitched 30 games last season and held a 1.96 ERA, the lowest of the Red Storm pitching staff.

“The rest of the team is very strong this year,” said Cope. “We have a lot of depth in each of our positions and will be a threat offensively.”

Cope enters her third season as head coach of the Red Storm and has her hands full.

She will have to fill the shoes of starting pitcher Gina Calabrese, who graduated last year. Calabrese holds all but three pitching records for the Red Storm and pitched 28 of 61 games last season.

The Red Storm was picked to finish seventh of 11 teams in the Big East. This is a step down from the sixth place finish they took last season. The team will return seven starters and four substitutes from last year’s team.

Seniors Lisa Tropea and Tiffany Howerton return for their last season as the only two players to start and play every game for the Red Storm last season. The catcher and third baseman bring batting averages of .234 and a .222, respectively, and a combined 40 RBI to the team. Sophomore Jessica Dima returns with the highest batting average for the Red Storm, hitting .267 last year.

Senior Kelly Houghton, although also plagued by injury and recovering from a recent shoulder surgery, hopes to be back on the field shortly. Houghton’s slugging percentage was a blistering .461 with nine home runs and 33 RBI.

She is expected to be one of the leading offensive players for the Red Storm this season. Houghton will travel with the team to their first tournament, but is not expected to make a full recovery by that time.

Newcomers to the team include pitcher Meghan Allman, junior outfielder Jessica Cameron, junior catcher Johanna Loughery and infielders Allina Sainz and Jillian Sandoval. The Red Storm will have to depend on Allman, the freshman, to carry most of the pitching burden at the beginning of the season due to the injuries of Fitzgerald and Cucciniello. She will be joined on the hill by Cameron, who came to St. John’s as an outfielder, but with experience as a pitcher she be needed to help fill out the rotation.

“Our goal for the beginning of the season with Allman is to keep her healthy and try not to overuse her, which might cause an injury,” said Cope.

The Red Storm face a tough schedule again this year as they open up the season at the Seminole Classic at Florida State.

In the seven games at the Classic, St. John’s will face opponents like Syracuse, Penn State and Florida State. The Red Storm is scheduled to attend three more tournaments before regular-season play begins.

The team will travel to North Carolina for the ECU Pirate Classic, Virginia for the Dixie Classic and South Carolina for the Winthrop Invitational.

After their last tournament, the Red Storm heads back to New York to play their first home game of the season against Sacred Heart University. The Red Storm will take advantage of their new home field, playing 10 of their 19 regular season games at home.

“Having a home field now gives us the chance to actually practice on the field we are going to play on and cuts down on the traveling to and from practices and games,” said Cope.

To make the Big East Tournament for the first time since 1994, the Red Storm will have to take one of the four top spots in the conference.

“There are no standout teams in the Big East this year, so we think we have a good shot at the Big East Tournament this year,” said Cope.