AMHERST, Mass. - The Amherst College softball team is coming off an incredible 2017 season in which they posted a 34-12 record, won the NCAA Super Regional and advanced to the Division III softball championship.
The team still has its sights on winning their first New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) title, which eluded them last year despite a 10-2 record in the conference, but head coach Jessica Johnson says that her team has to take every game one pitch at a time.
As the Mammoths prepare to start their season this weekend in Florida, Johnson, in her fourth season, also said that she aims to put her team in stressful game-like situations in order to better prepare them for the season ahead. "It's all about getting reps early and often ahead of our trip [to Florida]," said Johnson. "Nothing is set in stone for the lineup, and we have a lot of versatility out on the field. A lot of ladies can play a lot of different positions and we really want to use that to our advantage."
Last season, the Mammoths returned from spring break 7-5 before beating Trinity and splitting a two game series with WPI. Amherst opened conference play in April with a three game sweep of Hamilton. They then swept MCLA, Middlebury, Smith, Wesleyan, and Keene State consecutively.
Amherst's only conference loses of the season came at the hands of Williams. In fact, the Ephs got the better of the Mammoths on four occasions, including twice in the NESCAC tournament, twice in the regular season, and once at the national championships, which ended Amherst's season.
The Mammoths captured their first ever NCAA D3 Regional Title after a 6-2 victory over UMass Boston. They also punched their programs first ever ticket to the Softball Championships by defeating Ramapo in two games in the Super Regionals.
Salustri was also named NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season, the only player in NESCAC history to receive the honor in consecutive seasons.
Naftel led the way offensively for the Mammoths, batting .405 with 26 RBIs and a team high 64 hits. Salustri batted .336 last year and only struck out four times on 134 plate appearance.
Senior captain Ally Kido '18 aims to make her last season her best yet. Kido batted .302 last spring with a .452 slugging percentage and led the team with four homeruns. Kate Kopatic '20 looks to pick up right where she left off last year as a first year, when she led the team with seven doubles and was second on the team with 29 RBIs. She batted .286 with a .462 slugging percentage and 57 total bases.
Amherst returns two pitchers to the circle, Gina Pagan '18 and Lorena Ukanwa '19, and adds a first year, Emily Lachtara '21. Last season, Pagan was awarded NESCAC Pitcher of the Year and was named First Team All- NESCAC. Her regular season 1.43 ERA ranked second in the league, and she finished the season with a 1.85 ERA and 177 strikeouts, averaging just over 1 K per inning.
Ukanwa appeared 22 times and had 10 starts last season. She finished with a 3.05 ERA and struck out 105 batters. Lachtara comes into the rotation as a fresh face and great competition for the staff. Assistant Coach Julie Bolduc said that the three pitchers all push each other to be better every day.
First pitch of the season is set for this Sunday at 10:00 AM as the Mammoths face Millikin in Clermont, Florida. After a ten-game trip to the South, Amherst returns home for their home opener doubleheader against Springfield on Friday, March 23rd at 3:00 PM.
Wesleyan comes to town for a single game on March 30th before the Mammoths head to Middletown the next day for a home and home series.
April kicks off with a home NESCAC series against Middlebury (6-7) and a visit from Williams on Saturday the 14th, part of another home and home set.
The final regular season home game of the year is a doubleheader against Tufts on April 21st before the final weekend of the season sees Amherst travel to Hamilton (27-28) for three games.