2014 Coast Guard Softball Preview

NEW LONDON, Conn.-Following a 22-17 campaign a year ago, Coast Guard returns eight starters this year, including two-time All-New England catcher Jessie Richardson and 2013 All-NEWMAC shortstop Morgan Kingston. A year ago the Bears exceeded the 20-win plateau for the fifth consecutive season while making it to the final day of the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference Championship Tournament.

Coast Guard will once again be led by head coach Donna Koczajowski, in her 17th season, having led the Bears to the NCAA Tournament in four of the past five years. Koczajowski will be assisted by associate head coach Amanda Illinger and assistant coaches Dana Fleischmann, Bill Mullins, and Liz Oliveira as well as student-assistant Devin Fellman.

Coast Guard has been projected to finish fourth in the NEWMAC this season, after a sixth place finish a year ago. As mentioned the Bears will have virtually the same group back, however, they will be without a pair of starters with the losses of two-time All-American utility player Holli Bastinck (.339, 19 RBI) and four-year starting outfielder Stacia Sarwinski (.296, 20 RBI).

The Bears will make a slight change to their schedule this year, opening the season at the NTC Spring Games in Clermont, Florida, deviating from opening the year at the Rebel Spring Games. They will also see their NEWMAC schedule increase by a pair of games with the addition of Emerson to the league this season.

The key to this year's club will be depth which Coach Koczajowski says is significantly more than in years' past. It all starts on the offensive side of the ball for the Bears this year as Coast Guard returns their top three hitters from a team that hit .315 a season ago.

The middle infield tandem of Kingston (.382, 21 RBI) and Erin Lisko (.347, 13 RBI), who combined for 18 of the team's 32 stolen bases last year, is set to serve as the sparkplug atop the order this season after helping Coast Guard average in excess of four runs per game in 2013. The heart of the Coast Guard order remains mostly in tact this year with the return of Richardson (.415, 24 RBI) who led the team with 10 doubles, corner infielder Hannah Ingerson (.308, 10 RBI) whose three home runs co-led the team, and defensive stalwart, centerfielder Kaitlin Ward (.284, 19 RBI).

Also returning to the Bears this season will be infielder Kelly Grills (.229), infielder/designated player Natalie Spadafora (.250), pitcher/outfielder Kelsey Gray, pitcher/outfielder Sarah Sorensen, and outfielder Tara Larkin.

The Bears return Kristine Kahl (15-9, 2.39 ERA) who developed into the staff ace a year ago, after leading the team in virtually every pitching category. She'll be expected to continue to anchor the staff while taking on a more significant role with Sammy Yuknat (7-8, 3.98 ERA) limited in her ability to begin the season. Kahl will have some help pitching as both Sorensen and Gray have joined the pitching staff after having not pitched since high school.

Coast Guard will welcome in a number of freshman who should contribute immediately. Sara Cammuso should lock down one of the starting corner outfield spots while Erin Reynolds will see time at catcher and in left field. Cherokee Strickland is likely to see a bulk of the playing time at third base while Meagen Witham will compete for time in the outfield and serve as a valuable pinch runner off the bench.

Coach Koczajowski was very pleased with how the Bears finished last season and saying the last year was critical in gaining experience for a very young group. She hopes the team will be able to develop and continue to gain experience early in the year, especially down in Florida. "Our goal every year is to be able to compete in the NEWMAC and I think a top four finish is a realistic goal for this season," stated Koczajowski, before continuing on to say, "if we're peaking at the right time towards the end of the season, there's no reason to think we can't compete for a conference title."

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