By JAMIR WILSON
The Salisbury Sea Gull softball team added another successful campaign to their historic legacy in the 2016 season. The Gulls finished the season 37-6, winning the Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) Tournament, and advancing all the way to their National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Regional Championship.
The Sea Gulls were honored with six first team all-conference players, and three first team All-American players.
Despite the previous good season, SU head coach Margie Knight is focused on the season ahead.
“We want to win a national championship—that’s our goal every year,” she said. “Did we want to go further last season? Certainly we did. Am I disappointed in the young women? No, they’re wonderful young women and sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way.”
Knight enters her twenty-first season as the head coach of the Sea Gull softball program. Over the 21-year span, Knight’s teams have posted a 754-159-2 record and earned 19 CAC championships.
This season is not Knight’s first walk in the park, but she continues to find ways to better herself as a head coach.
“I continue to try and educate myself. The things I’ve done this year is get extra pitching instruction to hopefully help our pitchers, and I can see that it’s really helped some of them,” Knight said.
The 2017 Sea Gulls have high expectations from their competition as well as their coaching staff; the CAC’s preseason coaches’ poll predicted that Salisbury would repeat as conference champions.
Fastpitch News named sophomore pitcher Brooke Mizelle as a preseason All-American honorable mention. Mizelle posted a 1.1 earned-run average (ERA) and an 18-2 record.
“My personal goal is to become a better verbal leader, making sure people are comfortable, knowing what play is next, how many outs there are and picking people up when they’re down in the dugout,” Mizelle said.
After an impressive freshman year on the mound, Mizelle is ready to step up and become a more confident player for her team.
“I want to keep my head up,” Mizelle said. “Now that I’m older, I have a higher leadership power and my attitude is going to affect the players on the field.”
The Sea Gulls softball team will look a lot different at the plate in 2017, only bringing back one of their top five hitters from last season, LeAnne Collins.
Junior outfielder LeAnne Collins produced 59 hits, 18 runs batted in (RBI), and accounted for 43 runs during her sophomore season. Senior outfielder Caitlin Lake and junior infielder Annie Pietanza are the other two veteran bats for the Gulls this year, combining for 58 hits and 32 RBIs in 2016.
The off-season was the time to start building team comradery and focusing on the players improving their games.
“We were working hard in the weight room, putting in a lot of reps and also trying to practice when we can in the gym and get as many extra reps in as possible,” Sea Gulls sophomore pitcher Shannon Powell said.
Building the confidence of players that have not yet delivered in the maroon and gold is the task for Knight and the coaching staff. Having a young and somewhat inexperienced core of players can bring its growing pains, but the Sea Gulls are confident that the transition will be a smooth one.
“The confidence is getting stronger every day as their skill level keeps rising. We did have a successful scrimmage and we hit the ball really well,” Knight said. “We’re depending on the entire roster, whether they’re getting a lot of work out on the field, or being supportive until it’s their turn to step on.”
The Salisbury Sea Gulls softball team will have a new place to call home this season. After renovations during the off-season, the brand new Sea Gull Softball Stadium is ready for its first pitch.
“It’s awesome being out here and playing on a new field with the turf—there’s a lot more room. We had to get used to the adjustment when it came to practice rotations, but we did it within one or two days and now we’re back on track,” Mizelle said.
The new stadium has a seating capacity of 500 people. The facility includes heated dugouts, a press box located behind home plate, and infield clay while the outfield will have turf.
“Even if we can’t get on the field some days, we can get in the outfield on the turf, so it gives us that ability to practice outside,” Powell said.
Coach Knight has enjoyed the upgrades to the stadium facilities as she glowed over the heated dugout feature.
“The wind chill is about 20 degrees and we’re here under the heaters and it’s tolerable,” Knight said. “My favorite part might be the depth of these dugouts are great and now our outfielders are no longer throwing uphill, they’re throwing straight in.”
Salisbury has posted a 44-4 record at home in the last two seasons, and with the new stadium, the team expects to continue their excellence in front of the Sea Gull fans for many years to come.