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Softball looks to ignite young core in championship push

From+left%2C+senior+outfielder+Hudson+Hassler+and+sophomore+catcher+Haley+Petrucci+will+look+to+get+back+in+the+Liberty+League+championship+with+a+squad+that+only+rosters+three+seniors.+
Kaeleigh Banda, Caleb Kaufman
From left, senior outfielder Hudson Hassler and sophomore catcher Haley Petrucci will look to get back in the Liberty League championship with a squad that only rosters three seniors.

The Ithaca College softball team is adjusting to having a younger team this season. In spite of this, its high-powered hitting and new age pitching staff will look to get back to the promised land to dethrone a modern day Goliath.

The team is coming off a season that saw major improvement and the highest win total for the team since 2019 with 27 wins. The team also made its first Liberty League final since its 2019 championship season, losing in two games to the now dynastic University of Rochester Yellowjackets. 

One major change to the South Hill squad will be how the roster is built. Only three seniors will be rostered going into the season, two less than last season. The team will also be smaller, rostering only 17 compared to last season’s total of 20 players. 

Despite this, senior outfielder Hudson Hassler said that while their numbers are small, leadership has been nothing but a strength on the team and that will show once the season begins. 

“We kind of do our thing, and we have a great relationship, but that’s not what it’s looked like in previous classes,” Hassler said. “We kind of use that to play to our strengths and we’re all different leaders. For example, like I’d say I’m more of a vocal leader than one of our other senior captains, Belle [De Oliviera], but she does an amazing job of connecting with other people on the team in ways that I wouldn’t be able to, so having that balance between our strengths, our personalities, what our leadership styles are, recognizing that and bouncing off of that.”

Hassler batted .346 through all 40 games last season and was second on the team in RBI’s with 24. She also achieved a Liberty League first team selection, something she said she is trying to build on.

“I’m a senior this year and a captain of the team, so I want to expand my leadership and influence the younger girls on the team as much as I can … leaving that impact before I go,” Hassler said. “I’m also the type of person who looks at stats a lot and revolves my goals around statistics. That’s always been something that’s motivated me and driven me, so I’m shooting high for a batting average of .400 and hoping to get some academic accolades as well.”

Another change the Bombers will have to take on is within the team’s pitching staff. The team only has one returning starting pitcher from last season, junior Anna Cornell and one other upperclassman, senior pitcher Ainsley Rodgers, who has yet to pitch in her career on South Hill. Despite the seemingly thin staff, head coach Kelly Robichaud said the incoming first-year pitchers have done more than enough to fill the void left by departing pitchers Riley Piromalli 23 and junior Bella Scolaro. 

“We’re really fortunate,” Robichaud said. “We have two first-year pitchers in our class [Mady Rowell and Taylor Brunn] and I think they’re going to give a lot of different looks in our pitching staff, which is exactly what I’m hoping for as well as we have some options in the field, including outfield and infield.”

After the departure of head coach Hannah Quintana after the 2022 season, Robichaud took over as interim head coach for the 2023 season. This year, Robichaud will assume the job with the full title of head coach. 

Sophomore catcher Haley Petrucci said Robichaud has effectively installed her own culture into the team.

“[Robichaud] is really good at looking at the full picture,” Petrucci said. “We spend enough time doing both offense and defense, but she also pushes nutrition, hydration and taking care of our bodies. We do yoga classes and stuff like that. So I think getting our bodies in the right shape, getting our heads in the right space in order to be able to go six days a week and hit the ground running.” 

Petrucci was a key contributor to the team as a first-year player last season. Petrucci led the team in both home runs with four and RBI’s with 25. Petrucci said that while her first-year season was mostly getting used to the collegiate game, this year she will look to expand her role as a head of the team.

“I think last year for me personally, it was a lot of getting my feet under me, getting used to what playing sports in college is and stepping into a catcher role where you gotta take control of the field and you gotta talk a lot,” Petrucci said. “I was super nervous, so I think I walked in the show knowing I’m here for a reason. I got this. I have a year under my belt and I have the ability to step up and be the one who speaks.” 

As a result of new NCAA legislation, the program was able to practice extra days in the fall as well as have extra time in the spring preseason. Hassler said extra time along with an increase in real game situations has given the team an upper hand in its season preparation.

“We have six full weeks of preseason, which is not how it’s typically looked in the past, which just gives us a lot of time to prepare,” Hassler said. “But I’d say the biggest thing is we’re trying to go live as much as we can. We’re going live off of our pictures at least once a week and that puts us in an awesome position at this point. Already getting that timing down, seeing live balls and putting our pitchers also in those situations to pitch to live batters.”

With Robichaud now safely in full control of the team’s operations, she has integrated a culture that embraces challenge. Competition is something that Robichaud has heavily emphasized in the team’s practices and is something she said she has used to bond the team. 

“Compete is one of my favorite words,” Robichaud said. “I think if we can fight and battle, practice is set up in a way that we’re gonna compete in the infield, we’re gonna compete in the outfield. Like little small drills that you can do in an indoor facility. But then I think there’s no reason why we wouldn’t be able to bond over the competitive nature of our sport and as well as our practices. It’s fun to see someone work really hard for that strikeout, for that ground out for whatever it may be and see the team celebrate.”

Staring down the barrel of difficult Liberty League opponents like the three-peating Yellowjackets and the 32-win Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Engineers, Hassler said the team isn’t focused on its competition, rather they are focused on doing what they know they can do.

“We’re not worried about who our opponent is,” Hassler said. “We’re not worried about who’s pitching to us because I know personally for me, that’s something that has gotten in my head in the past, but you can only control what you can control. So we’re thinking about ourselves in the box, doesn’t matter who’s throwing us or what they’re throwing. We know that we could hit it and that’s the mindset that we have.”

With the team set to begin the hunt, there is only one goal Hassler said the team is focused on.

“Liberty League Championship 100%,” Hassler said. “It’s as simple as that. One game, one week, one inning at a time. Obviously we want to get as far as we can but winning a Liberty League. … There is no question about it, no other option.”

The Bombers will begin their Liberty League title chase in a doubleheader against the University of Scranton at 1 p.m. March 2 in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

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Billy Wood
Billy Wood, Sports Editor
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