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Strong returning core sets Stony Brook softball up for big 2024 season

The Stony Brook softball team huddles at the end of practice on Wednesday, Jan. 24. The Seawolves are entering the 2024 season with championship expectations. BRITTNEY DIETZ/THE STATESMAN

Last season served as a valuable learning experience for the Stony Brook softball team. Now with a season’s worth of experience in the Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) under their belt, the Seawolves are ready to fight for a championship.

Stony Brook’s 2023 season was filled with ebbs and flows. The team finished the regular season at .500 and underperformed in CAA competition, posting a 10-13 record. However, that record was good enough to sneak into the 2023 CAA softball tournament as the seventh seed, where it thrived and pulled off several upsets before falling in the semifinals to Hofstra. The Seawolves went 4-2 in the tournament to finish their year with a winning record, going 29-27 overall.

With the way last season transpired, left fielder Alyssa Costello and the rest of her teammates are coming into the year with a chip on their shoulder.

“We’ve already said, ‘We’re going on a revenge tour,’” Costello said in an interview with The Statesman. “Some of those teams in the CAA who doubted us and didn’t see us at our best; we’re excited to jump on them this season and show them what it looks like when we have all of our facets.”

Fortunately for Stony Brook, it possesses all the tools to have a successful season. Most notably, the team boasts one of the best lineups in the CAA, as its position player pool is overflowing with a mix of talented veterans and young players eager to make an impact.

Like last season, the Seawolves sport a loaded outfield. The group is headlined by Costello, who has won her conference’s batting title in each of her first two seasons in the NCAA. Costello earned a selection to both the 2023 All-CAA First Team and the 2023 CAA All-Tournament Team, batting .402 with 13 doubles, two triples, eight home runs and 36 runs batted in (RBI).

Her doubles, triples and RBI total all either led or co-led the team last year, while her eight bombs were tied for second most. Her 1.083 on-base plus slugging (OPS) ranked second in the conference. She is also a sneaky threat on the basepaths, as she stole seven bases in nine attempts and led Stony Brook with 36 runs scored.

Costello has played significant innings in both corner outfield positions but played mostly in left field last year, making several highlight-reel catches and committing only one error in 76 chances.

Center fielder Alicia Orosco will once again be patrolling center as she returns for her senior year. Orosco has been an ironwoman these last two seasons, starting all 103 of the Seawolves’ games in center field since 2022. She has been an effective table setter in the leadoff spot since becoming a full-time player, batting .297 in 354 at-bats over the past two years. Last year, she raked, batting .346 from the top of their batting order.

Orosco has swiped nine bags in 11 tries in each of the last two years, leading the team last year. Her 13 walks and 34 runs scored were the second most on the squad. Her defense has been impeccable, committing just three errors in 139 chances over her whole career.

Rounding out what is likely to be the Seawolves’ starting outfield is right fielder Catherine Anne Kupinski. After being benched due to a sluggish start to last season, Kupinski found her stride and delivered her best offensive season yet. She posted a .522 slugging percentage, which ranked 10th in the CAA, and batted .272 with eight doubles, eight homers and 28 RBIs.

The trio committed just an error each in 206 total chances last year, combining for a .985 fielding percentage.

Head coach Megan Bryant spoke glowingly of her team’s outfield, describing it as the best in the CAA.

“I think we do a lot of things well,” Bryant said. “We have good speed, we have good arms. We pride ourselves on taking hits away, so I feel like we play aggressively. All those outfielders … also contribute offensively, which is great. There’s good depth there.”

Stony Brook’s stellar outfield extends well beyond its starters. Left fielder and designated player Julianna Sanzone is expected to make an impact as well. In a platoon role last year, Sanzone batted .272 with a .350 on-base percentage and 12 RBIs. Through her first three years, she is a career .275 hitter with a .364 on-base percentage.

Outfielders Kaiya Simpkins and Emma Scheitinger are a pair of young guns to keep an eye out for. Simpkins redshirted last season and Bryant has been pleased with her improvements this offseason. 

As for Scheitinger, expectations are high. The freshman raked in her senior year at Ichabod Crane High School, batting .495 with six doubles, six triples, six homers and 46 RBIs. Along with her capabilities at the plate, Scheitinger ran the program’s fastest home-to-home sprint time ever recorded.

Catcher Corinne Badger sees a lot of potential in Scheitinger and is excited to see what she can do at the collegiate level.

“She’s a very lethal player,” Badger said. “She’s very fast, has a cannon of an arm and is a great hitter. I think if she gets a chance, she’s going to do a great job.”

Though they have a crowded outfield, competition in the infield is where things get interesting for the Seawolves. 

With former first baseman Ashley Jacobson — a hitter with a career .298/.340/.507 slash line — being lost to the transfer portal, Bryant is getting creative to find her replacement. Though she is a catcher, Badger is set to see time at first base when not behind the plate this season.

Badger has prior experience at first base from her high school and travel ball days and has moved to first base a handful of times with Stony Brook. She is more than willing to commit to a part-time role there.

“Anything I can do to help the team,” Badger said. “It was kind of just picking it back up … and getting used to the rapid pace of playing first base at the collegiate level.”

In 2023, Badger’s power surge continued, slugging a team-leading 14 homers while driving in 33 runs. Though she hit just .263, Badger was an on-base machine. She drew a team-best 19 walks and wore a CAA-leading 16 hit-by-pitches, culminating in a .396 on-base percentage. Her mix of raw power and a selective eye gave her a .947 OPS, which ranked second on the team.

Badger is one of the most prolific home-run hitters in program history, as her 31 bombs are tied for sixth all-time. If she matches her 2022 total of 16, Badger will become the Seawolves’ all-time home runs leader.

First basemen Malorie Hill and Chloe Montalvo will battle it out to determine who starts at first when Badger is catching. Hill is a freshman utility player who also plays the corner outfield, while Montalvo is both a catcher and a first baseman who redshirted last year. Bryant said that Montalvo has potential to be a power threat and run producer in the middle of the batting order.

With Badger getting first base reps, catcher Emily Reinstein — now a junior — will see an uptick in playing time. As the backup in 2023, she batted .294 and produced an .831 OPS in 51 at-bats, slugging three doubles, a triple and two home runs.

Positionally, the rest of the infield is in limbo. It is unclear whether third baseman Brooke Dye, who is a defense-first player, will be ready for the start of the season after having a procedure to clean out her knee during the offseason. This leaves three middle infielders wondering where they will play in the diamond.

If Dye cannot go from day one, shortstop Kyra McFarland is a viable option to play third base. Regardless of whether she plays short or third, McFarland will reclaim her spot in the two-hole. She batted .327 and stole seven bases in eight tries through 18 games last year before a broken wrist on a hit-by-pitch prematurely ended her season. Her walk rate also skyrocketed, going from 6.1% through her first two years all the way up to 13.2% in 2023.

McFarland is thrilled to step back on the field and is ready to make her presence felt.

“It was really hard to watch my team struggle last season when I wasn’t playing, especially knowing I could’ve done something to help had I not gotten hurt,” McFarland said. “But now I’m excited. Seeing as how we finished off last season, I’m ready to continue that with my team.”

McFarland is one of the best slap hitters and baserunners in the CAA. Through three years, she is a career .300 hitter with a .362 on-base percentage, a 7.2% strikeout rate and a .926 stolen base percentage in 28 attempts.

Second baseman Sofia Chambers and shortstop Naiah Ackerman will also vie for playing time. Chambers had a down year at the plate in 2023, batting .239 after hitting .255 in 2022. Ackerman started the season as the team’s backup second baseman before ascending to the starting role for a month after an injury to Chambers.

Once McFarland went down, Ackerman slid over to short while Ackerman returned to the lineup just in time to reclaim second base. Ackerman racked up 18 RBIs, earning her a 2023 CAA All-Rookie Team selection despite batting just .208.

Other depth options include infielders Madelyn Stepski, Daniella Sofia and Katherine Bubel. Stepski is a speedster who was used once as a pinch runner last year and scored in her only opportunity on the basepaths.

Despite leading the CAA in both batting average (.286) and slugging percentage (.426) as a team last year, Bryant believes the offense can improve this season. New hitting coach Stephanie Bagwell has implemented a simplified approach at the plate, which Bryant expects to take them to the next level.

“We’re still going to have power,” Bryant said. “But I think you’re going to see an improvement in situational hitting and we’re going to leave less runs on the board.”

In the circle, Stony Brook added some much-needed depth this offseason. Returning at the top of the rotation are right-handed starting pitchers Mia Haynes and Ashton Melaas.

After a rocky start to the year, Haynes cemented herself as the Seawolves’ ace by last season’s end. She posted a 3.11 earned run average (ERA) through 40 games (27 starts), which was the CAA’s ninth-best mark, and led the conference with 184 ⅔ innings pitched. Haynes co-led the CAA with 18 complete games and her six shutouts placed second.

Bryant had high praise for Haynes, calling her the key to the team’s success.

“She’s the X-factor,” Bryant said. “She’s done a tremendous job of working on some different things to give herself some different looks and I think she’s going to be exciting to watch this year.”

Melaas, on the other hand, was inconsistent. She also proved to have a rubber arm, as she ranked sixth in the conference with 151 ⅔ innings pitched through 36 games (25 starts). Melaas led the team with a 1.34 walks and hits per innings pitched (WHIP) and a .274 batting average against. However, the long ball plagued her, as she allowed the fourth-most home runs in the CAA (15) and finished the campaign with a 3.97 ERA.

Joining the starting rotation is left-handed starting pitcher Gabrielle Maday. Maday was acquired from the transfer portal this offseason after spending four years and playing three seasons at Cornell. She produced a 3.95 ERA and a .275 opponent’s batting average across 19 games (17 starts) last year in 85 innings. Maday also pitched to a 1.33 WHIP and threw six complete games, which both led her team. Her strikeout, walk and home run numbers all improved last year from her first two.

Kupinski highlighted Maday as breakout candidate, as she will be crucial in taking some of the load off Haynes and Melaas.

“I think she brings a more competitive edge to the pitching staff,” Kupinski said. “She just makes it an overall lethal combination for whatever team we’re going to face.”

Left-handed pitcher Maddie Male is also set to return in a middle relief role. Male missed all of her freshman year with a back injury and debuted last year, posting a 4.80 ERA through eight games (four starts) before reinjuring herself.

Right-handed pitchers Amanda Flynn and Jordyn Fray round out the pitching depth. Flynn struggled mightily in 2023 after not appearing through her first two seasons, posting an 8.17 ERA through six appearances. Fray is a freshman from Las Vegas who pitched to a 1.26 ERA in her high school senior season.

Stony Brook’s defense will have to be above average once again, as its pitching staff pitches to contact and averaged just 3.62 strikeouts per seven innings last season. The Seawolves ranked second in the CAA in team fielding percentage (.964) last year. With the exception of Jacobson, everyone from those regular defensive alignments have returned, meaning that the defense’s success should be repeated.

With the addition of Campbell University to the CAA, the postseason field has been condensed from eight teams to six, making the early half of conference play all the more important. Nonetheless, with its potent lineup, bolstered pitching staff and excellent defense, Stony Brook fully expects to compete for a conference title this season.

“I can speak for myself and the team on this,” Kupinski said. “We want rings at the end of the season.”

The Seawolves will open their season at the Felsburg Invitational in Miami on Friday, Feb. 9 at 10 a.m. against the Southeastern Missouri State Redhawks.

Mike Anderson contributed reporting.

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About the Contributor
Anthony DiCocco, Assistant Sports Editor
Anthony DiCocco is an Assistant Sports Editor at The Statesman. He is a sophomore majoring in journalism with aspirations of becoming a sports journalist. His love of sports derives from years of playing dek hockey and watching his favorite teams, the New York Islanders, New York Mets and New York Jets. He is the beat reporter for Stony Brook’s hockey and softball teams. He has also covered football, men’s lacrosse and men’s soccer. He was previously the Editor-in-Chief of his high school newspaper the Devil’s Tale at Plainedge High School. He is a local product from North Massapequa, N.Y.
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