A final record of 23-30-1 would be a disappointment for most teams, but not for last season’s St. John’s softball team. After losing their star pitcher, Courtney Fitzgerald to a season ending wrist surgery, freshman Meghan Allman was forced to pitch all but one game during the 2002 season.
“I don’t think our record really reflects the talent we had on our team,” St. John’s Head Coach Melody Cope said. “Anytime a team faces the same pitcher for 14 innings straight, they’re going to figure it out, so it’s a huge disadvantage when you have only one pitcher.”
The 2003 season should bring an improvement for this year’s squad, as the Storm welcome back Fitzgerald into the starting rotation.
In 2001, she had a 1.96 ERA, 16 wins, seven shutouts, and 142 strikeouts.
“It’s important for us to have Fitz back because she does more than just the things she does on the mound. She provides a lot of leadership and energy for our team,” Cope said.
“I’m going to come in with enthusiasm, but it’s like a new experience,” added Fitzgerald. “I’m going to try to do the best I can.”
Joining Fitzgerald in the pitching rotation will be Allman and freshman Melanie Lehman.
“Meghan did a great job for us,” Cope said of Allman’s outstanding play a season ago. “She pretty much broke every record we had.”
The lefty set school records for wins, appearances, games started, complete games, innings pitched and strikeouts. Besides starting 51 of 54 games last season, Allman put up huge numbers. She pitched four no-hitters, had a 1.90 ERA, 21 wins, 13 shutouts and 267 strikeouts.
Due to her 331 innings pitched last year, Allman had her elbow scoped in September. At press time, Allman is rehabbing and plans on returning soon.
“If all goes well, I should be ready to go hopefully by the beginning to mid-March,” Allman noted.
Lehman will make her appearances in relief situations. “She’s our only right-handed pitcher so it will be good to give the other teams a different look,” Cope commented. “Mel could come in and finish the game for us, and keep the other teams off balance.”
“I feel like with the three of us, we can do so well,” Allman said. “So it’s just a matter of us working as a pitching staff, and getting stronger as we go toward Big East play.”
St. John’s loses eight seniors from last year’s squad, including Kelly Houghton, Tiffany Howerton and Ann Raab.
Houghton was the team’s offensive leader in triples, home runs, RBI, total bases and slugging percentage last year.
“Kelly brought power to our offensive lineup, but we feel like Allina Sainz will step in and fill that role,” Cope said.
St. John’s does welcome back four seniors, including Jessica Shepherd (SS/3B), Jessica Cameron (OF), Alesha Argeras (3B) and Fitzgerald, who still has one year of eligibility left after this season.
On this year’s seniors, Cope said, “They see this is their last chance in the Big East, so they are real excited.”
The 2003 squad features no juniors, as Sainz (DP) will accompany last season’s dynamic battery of Allman and catcher Jillian Sandoval as the only sophomores.
The rest of this year’s team will consist of eight freshmen.
Carrie Kester, Jessica Marical and Jo Sherlock will play in the outfield this season, while Megan Oliver, according to Cope, will see a lot of time at third base.
Linda Reyes (SS/3B), Leigh Carlson (Catcher) and Blair Belloni (2B) round out the freshmen class.
“It’s really important that we set a good tone and be good role models,” Argeras said. “They really look up to us.”
“There are a lot of good things about having eight freshmen,” Cope said. “I’m not nervous at all about the freshmen. They step on the field expecting to beat everybody, and so they don’t come in intimidated.”
St. John’s will start the season with non-conference opponents in a variety of tournaments, including a trip to California.
“I kind have waited four years for a schedule like this,” Shepherd said with a smile.
The Johnnies will kick things off at the Triangle Classic (Feb. 14-16) and end their tournament schedule when they host the SJU Tournament on March 22. In between, the Storm will compete in the ECU Pirate Classic (Feb. 21-23), Loyola Maramount Tournament (Feb. 28-March 2), Fresno State Classic (March 7-9) and Winthrop Invitational (March 14-16).
During this stretch, SJU will face off against Fresno State, UCLA, Michigan State, Illinois, Fordham and San Diego State.
“We’re real excited about the schedule because after playing those kinds of teams, the Big East games will seem like just another game,” Cope said.
Only four out of 11 teams qualify for the tournament, so the Storm has their work cut out for them.
In the Big East preseason poll selected by the coaches, St. John’s was picked to finish seventh place.
“I think we’re going to surprise more people,” Fitzgerald said. “Nobody really has a clue of what potential and talent we have.”