AMHERST, Mass. – The Amherst College softball team is coming off a 24-12 season that saw the Purple & White earn a third place finish in the NESCAC Championship tournament for the second time in program history. With its sights set on the program's first-ever NESCAC title. Amherst returns 12 healthy veterans from last year's squad in addition to adding four newcomers.
At the helm, third-year head coach Jessica Johnson says the team has a "well-balanced attack with a great mix of finesse, ability to hit for average, and power from both sides of the plate."
Last season the Purple & White returned from spring break with an 8-3 record before capturing two of the three-game series win's against Middlebury (5-3, 7-3) and Hamilton (10-2, 11-2). Amherst went on a five-game win steak defeating Smith and Bates twice in non-conference competition, and Keene State once. It conquered Williams in game one of the series (7-6), but dropped game two, 7-3 as Williams plated six runs in the top of the seventh inning. The Ephs claimed the series with a 6-3 victory, forcing the Purple & White to take two games in the Wesleyan series to make the post-season. Capturing game one against Little Three Rival Wesleyan, 2-1, Amherst lost game two 3-1, but fought back in game three for a thrilling 9-7 victory in 10 innings to break into the NESCAC playoffs for the first time since 2012.
Amherst will get a healthy dose of power throughout the lineup, led by two First Team All-NESCAC selections, sophomores Kyra Naftel and Sammy Salustri. Naftel had a strong first-year campaign as a utility player, posting a .416 batting average while notching 16 multi-hit games and ranked fifth among all league players with 47 hits, in addition tying for first in triples with six. The Santa Claritia, Calif. native also posted a team-leading .558 slugging percentage while totaling 63 bases and scoring 26 runs.
Salustri wrapped up last season as the first Amherst player and first-ever rookie to be recognized as the league's Defensive Player of the Year, while also contributing at the plate. With a slugging percentage of .405, the second baseman had a team-high 28 runs scored, ranked in the top-10 overall in hits (45), and was second on the team in stolen bases with eight.
The Purple & White also saw plenty of power from Alena Marovitz '17 who led the team in doubles (17) and RBI's (31), while Annie Apffel '17 and Annie Murphy '19 saw the long ball three times apiece last season. Johnson is thrilled about the returning talent that has been brought back to the squad as well the addition of first-year's Kate Kopatic, Andrea Sanders, Annie McClusky, and Scout Boynton.
Primed for a successful season in the circle, Amherst's depth chart goes four deep with plenty of talent led by Second Team All-NESCAC pitcher, Lorena Ukanwa '19. The sophomore will be relied upon once again after posting a 2.59 ERA in 105.1 innings pitched and ranked first in the conference for strikeouts (97) and strikeouts per game (6.45), while allowing just 48 runs.
Jackie Buechler '17 and Lauren Tuiskula '17 return to the circle with a wealth of expertise. Buechler enters the season with a career 251 innings pitched, 215 strikeouts, and a miniscule 38 walks. Tuiskula notched a career 10-5 record and will contribute both as a reliever and starter.
Rounding out the talent is junior Gina Pagan who proved her abilities last season appearing in 20 games. With only three starts, Pagan took on a role of a reliever and finished the season 6-3 with one save.
The Purple & White will head to Florida in March to begin their 2017 season Saturday, March 11 with a doubleheader against the University of New England followed by Wittenburg. The annual spring training trip features 12 games over an eight-day stretch before returning to the Pioneer Valley for a non-conference doubleheader at Trinity March 25.
Amherst will then head to WPI for a non-conference doubleheader against the Engineers Wednesday, March 29 before hosting its home-opening conference three-game series against Hamilton Friday, March 31 and Saturday, April 1. They will then host MCLA mid-week for a doubleheader (April 5) followed by a road trip to Middlebury for a three-game series April 7 and April 8. The Purple & White will host a doubleheader versus Smith Wednesday, April 12 before returning to NESCAC competition to take on Little Three rival Wesleyan April 14-15.
Amherst will then host Keene State on April 19 before taking on long-time NESCAC archrival, Williams, in a three-game series on April 21-22. The squad will have one more non-conference doubleheader on its home field against Western New England Wednesday, April 26 to conclude the regular season.
Not yet a member of the Friends of Amherst Softball for the 2016-17 year? Become a first-time member of or renew your membership in the FAA and support Coach Johnson and the softball program. Make a gift ahead of the team's first game on Saturday, March 11 against U. New England. Go Amherst!