The 2016 season was one that will always stand out for Molloy softball, bringing another East Coast Conference Championship to Rockville Centre after a two-year hiatus. Head Softball Coach and Athletic Director Susan Cassidy-Lyke's team went 35-24 on the year, including two separate eight-game winning streaks. The Lions outdid their opponents in every offensive statistical category except for the long ball, including scoring nearly 100 more runs than they allowed on the season. Five players were named All-Conference, while two went on to All-Region accolades, and one All-American Honorable Mention.
While the team should look familiar this year, returning 15 of the 18 players from 2016's Championship season, there will be huge holes to fill with the absence of Tracey Balinskas. In her senior season, the utility player/pitcher led the team in runs (45), hits (75), doubles (17), home runs (8), and slugging percentage (.622). The senior was also a threat in the circle, completing the season with an 11-8 record and 4.08 earned-run average. Through 119 innings, featuring seven complete games, she struck out 89 batters and held her opponents to a .273 batting average against.
In the Circle
The Lions will return last year's number one starting pitcher in Chelsea Hawks for her senior season. As a junior, Hawks recorded an 18-11 record with 18 complete games, five shutouts and an ERA of 2.84 Through 190.1 innings, she retired 180 batters to the strikeout and held batters to a .231 batting average against.
Cassidy-Lyke will call to sophomore Jenna Turato to fill the void left by Balinskas as the second starting pitcher. In her rookie campaign, she went 6-4 with four complete games, two saves and an ERA of 3.98. The freshman tallied 48 strikeouts through 74.2 innings pitched, collecting a career-high seven K's in a complete game against Pace University last season.
The maroon and white will return the majority of last season's infielders in Brianna Dalton, Erin Clinton, Ashley Fedor, and Sarah Rambo. Dalton started all 59 games for Molloy at shortstop, batting .319 with a team-high 42 RBIs. Cassidy-Lyke is anticipating a bounce back season from senior Fedor, who has been a staple at third base for the Lions. Last season, Fedor batted .259 with 49 hits and 19 runs batted in. In the field, she recored 62 putouts with 100 assists for a fielding percentage of .947.
Junior Alex Russo will return behind the plate for the Lions, starting all but two games last season. As a catcher, she posted a fielding percentage of .993 with 252 putouts and 23 assists. At the dish, the then-sophomore batted .283, driving in 37 runs.
Graduate student Milan Botte will also be back as a big bat in the Molloy lineup. Last year, Botte was the sole representative of the ECC in the Conference Commissioner's Association All-America Softball Team as an Honorable Mention. As the designated player, she hit a team-leading .398 with 68 hits in 171 at-bats. On the season, Botte totaled seven home runs, 13 doubles, 36 RBIs, and a slugging percentage of .596.
The Lions will also gain a big bat in the lineup from junior Tiana DeOliveira. The Dowling College transfer hit .280 (fourth on the team), slugging at .383 with 30 hits and 12 RBI.
The outfield for the Lions will also look similar to 2016's, with juniors Olivia Banulski and Chrissy Heyer partnering with sophomore Kaitlyn Snyder. Banulski batted .289 on the season, leading the team in sacrifice hits (11) and stolen bases (10) and was named to the All-Conference Second Team. Heyer started 13 games last season, hitting .205 with 10 runs scored and eight hits. As a rookie, Snyder started in 53 of the 55 games, and Cassidy-Lyke hopes to see the offensive production from the end of last season carry over into the 2017 campaign. The freshman went 3-for-4 with two home runs in the second to last series of the regular season and played a crucial role both offensively, with a solo home run, and defensively, with a diving catch to help Molloy capture the ECC Championship.
Molloy will start the 2017 campaign with three straight series on the road, heading to Myrtle Beach, S.C. for the Snowbird Softball Freeze Out Feb. 17-19 before going to Clermont, Fla. for the PFX Spring Games Mar. 11-13 and then closing with a double-header against Barry University in Miami. The series will each feature tough matchups, namely games against West Chester University of Pensylvania and Le Moyne, who each were NCAA Tournament teams in 2016.
Upon returning home, the maroon and white face LIU Post in an early conference game on Mar. 21. Molloy was unable to beat the Pioneers during the regular season, going 0-4 in their games, but made up for it with four straight wins in the postseason, including the ECC Championship game.
On Mar. 30, the Lions will host Adelphi, who defeated the Lions in the NCAA Regionals and eventually went on to the NCAA Division II Championship round before falling to Armstrong State. The Panthers were ranked No. 7 in the National Fastpitch Coaches' Association Division II Preseason Coaches Poll.
Molloy will also face Mercy (Apr. 1), Bridgeport (Apr. 2), New Haven (Apr. 6), NYIT (Apr. 13), Queens (Apr. 18), St. Thomas Aquinas (Apr. 25) and Caldwell (Apr. 27) at home before the East Coast Conference tournament begins on May 4. The Lions will be on the hunt for back-to-back titles.