The Middlebury softball team enters the 2017 season after just missing the NESCAC Tournament last spring. The Panthers finished with a 21-11 mark in 2016 and will look to vie for the NESCAC crown this season. The team not only had a successful campaign on the field, but in the classroom as well. A total of nine Panthers were recognized by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) for having a grade point average of 3.50 or better through the spring season, while six players earned NESCAC All-Academic accolades with a minimum of 3.35 GPA.
The Panthers lost four players to graduation following the 2016 season. Earning their respective degrees were Neve Stearns, Carlyn Vachow, Jackie Stern and Kat Maehr. Stearns was a mainstay in the pitching circle, making 80 career appearances with her name throughout the record books, while Vachow, a Second-Team All-NESCAC selection, was her battery mate for many of those games, finishing with a career .344 batting average. Stern played second base and saw action in 112 games, while Maehr garnered numerous regional and conference awards in 90 career contests as well as some pitching duties.
Head Coach Kelly Bevere returns for her 11th season at the helm, owning more wins than any softball coach in school history with a 208-132 (.612) mark. "I am extremely excited about the 2017 group in terms of both returners as well as the first-year players," said Bevere. "They really have put the time in this offseason to figure out what can make us successful."
Over half of the innings logged in the circle returns this spring. Junior Allison Quigley has tallied a solid first two seasons for the Panthers, posting a 9-3 mark in 13 starts and 17 appearances last spring. She finished seventh in the NESCAC with a 2.72 ERA in 64.1 innings to go along with four complete games last spring. Quigley tallied 47 strikeouts and walked just 27 batters a season ago, as her 5.11 strikeouts per seven innings placed her eighth in the league. One of her best performances came against Castleton on April 10, where she struck out a season-high 10 batters in a 3-2 complete-game win. Quigley enters her junior season with a 22-7 record, 11 complete games, 150 strikeouts against just 50 walks in 175.2 innings pitched.
Sophomore Irene Margiotta also significant innings in her first season for the Panthers. She finished with a 6-2 record, two complete games, as well as one save in 51.2 innings. Margiotta appeared in 16 contests with seven starts, striking out 20 batters and posted a 3.66 ERA.
"Our pitching staff is going to play a critical role in what our group can accomplish this season," said Bevere. "We bring back a pair of experienced players in the circle. With a strong emphasis on solid defense and quality at-bats, we look to compete and win every inning."
Middlebury returns four of its top-seven hitters from last season, as part of a very balanced group. A season ago, the Panthers set program records for batting average (.343) and home runs (22), while ranking second with 70 doubles.
Last spring, Freyre hit .338, led the Panthers with 10 doubles and tied Kati Daczkowski for team-best accolades with four homers. She knocked in 20 runs and her .635 slugging percentage was fourth on the squad, seeing most of her time at first base. Defensively, she committed just four errors in 131 total chances for Middlebury.
Giles, playing mostly at third base last spring, tallied a .362 batting average, ranked tied for second on the team with eight doubles and smacked two homers to go along with 12 RBI. Kim patrolled the shortstop position a season ago, appearing in 30 games while posting a .303 batting average with a homer, 12 RBI and nine walks to go with 17 runs scored.
Gardner is versatile and has seen playing time at numerous positions both in the outfield and infield. She played mainly at the corner infield spots last spring, finishing the season with a .304 average, while posting a team-high 23 RBI. She hit two homers, drew nine walks and scored 19 runs while committing just five errors in a team-high 142 total chances for a .965 fielding percentage.
A group of returners will be vying for all three positions in the Panther outfield. Senior captain Siobhan O'Sullivan brings back the most experience from a season ago. O'Sullivan played in 30 games last spring, hitting .340 (34-100) in a team-high 100 at-bats with a home run, 18 RBI and 16 runs.
Third-year Panthers Ali Della Volpe and Daczkowski each had playing time in the outfield a season ago. Daczkowski had a breakout year in 2016, ending with a .411 batting average. She tied for the team lead with four home runs and paced the Panthers with 25 runs scored to go along with 14 runs batted in. Della Volpe (.281) appeared in 26 games two doubles, a triple and six RBI.
"Our experienced group and strong upper-class leadership are going to motivate this team in 2017," added Bevere. "Each player must focus on getting better daily and working toward incremental progress to help better our team."
The Panthers open their season on March 24 in Clermont, Florida, with its annual spring trip. After 10 games down south, Middlebury returns to New England for an in-state doubleheader with Castleton on April 2. The Panthers will host Amherst and Williams to conclude the regular season in three-game NESCAC West series, while visiting Hamilton and Wesleyan.