October 5, 2022
Ithaca, NY | 50°F


Immediate impact

When the softball team takes the field for its home opener Sunday against the University of Rochester, almost half the roster will consist of new faces.

From left, freshmen Sam Bender, Jillian Olmstead and Jackie Branco have helped the Blue and Gold to an 8–2 record overall this season. MICHELLE BOULÉ/THE ITHACAN

Eight of the Bombers’ 23 players are freshmen this season, and all of them are looking to contribute to the team in any way they can. Freshmen pitchers Jillian Olmstead and Sam Bender, designated player Jackie Branco, second baseman and outfielder Julianne Vincent, and catcher and third baseman Sydney Folk have turned in dominant performances and set the tone for the newcomers through the first 10 games.

Olmstead has shown she can be successful at the Division III level, as she combined with senior captain Allison Greaney on a no-hitter in the Bombers’ five-inning season-opening shutout March 13 against Pine Manor College.

Olmstead said once she was able to maintain her velocity, all of her other pitches just fell in the right spots.

“When my velocity was constant, I felt like I could throw any type of pitch,” she said. “At first, the fastball came the easiest to me, but once I mastered my curveball, I felt like I could fool hitters by placing the ball.”

She followed up with a one-run victory over the University of Massachusetts Boston three days later, in which she struck out five batters in the first five innings.

Junior catcher Erinn Jacobi was behind the plate for both of Olmstead’s starts. She said Olmstead’s composure set her apart from the other young pitchers the team faced during their road trip to Florida.

“She has been doing everything that the coaches ask of her and does it with a composure that you don’t normally see in a freshman pitcher,” she said.

Bender was able to use her velocity and deception in the Blue and Gold’s 9–5 victory against Saint Joseph’s College. During the game’s final 2 1/3 innings, she surrendered only two hits.

Bender, who specializes in throwing the screwball, said her early success resulted from bullpen sessions with senior catcher Kerry Barger. Bender said Barger noticed she was tipping pitches and helped her lower her release point.

“I tend to hang a few pitches, so she told me to reach for my pockets and keep my body low,” Bender said.

Barger said Bender put in the extra time during preseason workouts to improve her discipline on the mound.

“She really came through as far as hitting her spots and maintaining control and command over her pitches,” she said.

Despite the loss of Alyssa Brook ’10, who led the softball team in complete games, strikeouts and ERA last season, the Bombers’ pitching staff still has a strong mix of veteran leadership and rookie talent, Head Coach Deb Pallozzi said.

“We still have Britt Lillie and Allison Greaney, who contributed a lot to our championship run last season, and we wanted our new, younger pitchers to contribute to the team sooner rather than later,” she said.

Greaney said this year’s freshmen have come in more ready to contribute than past freshman classes.

“All of them have been really open about everything the coaches have asked of them at the plate and in the field without any complaints,” she said.

Pallozzi said she keeps the freshmen engaged while they’re not on the field with a new concept she calls Eagle Eyes, where players watch for opponents’ mistakes.

“While they’re on the bench, they’re going to try and steal signs and watch for missed bases because those types of things can win ball games for you too,” she said.

Another role the freshmen will be responsible for, while in the dugout, is to keep track of statistics. The numbers will be used for the gradient system Pallozzi is using this season to track offensive output and pitching.

In addition to the pitchers, the Blue and Gold have two adaptable players in designated player Jackie Branco and Julianne Vincent, who is capable of playing second base and all three outfield positions. Vincent has even seen time at third base in two games this season.

Vincent said she was looking to contribute to the team in a variety of ways, especially on defense.

“Fundamentals will help us win close games,” Vincent said. “A dropped fly ball or ground ball makes all the difference in the late innings.”

Branco said senior pitcher and outfielder Britt Lillie, who led the team in extra base hits and total bases last season, has helped her figure out what pitches to expect in certain situations.

“In high school it was more like ‘See the ball and hit it,’” she said. “Here it’s more of really making mechanics work and being prepared for certain types of pitches so you can make solid contact.”

Lillie said she has focused on Branco’s approach at the plate, which includes keeping her shoulders square during her swing.

“Once the mechanical aspects come together, she can get back to the basics of recognizing the pitch and crushing it,” she said.

Folk, who will see more playing time behind the plate since Barger injured her knee, said the fast start has convinced the freshmen their diligence will result in another championship run.

“We’re all buying into all the hard work we’ve been putting in both on and off the field, and now that we’ve seen positive results over the break, we’re motivated to contribute to the team in any way we can,” she said.

Lillie said the freshmen contribute in almost every aspect of the game.

“A lot of them have the range to play many different positions around the field,” she said. “The versatility they have helps us with depth.  Their hard working personalities are evident in their attention to detail.”

Barger said the freshman class has shown a high level of maturity throughout the early part of the season.

“They’ve been able to carry themselves and interact with the team well, and I don’t see any difference between us seniors and the freshman class,” she said.