March 3 – BETHANY, W. Va. – Behind one of the most experienced groups in recent memory, the Bethany College softball program has set their sights on one goal for the 2016 season; capturing their league-best 14th-Presidents' Athletic Conference Championship.
2015 saw the Green & White compete with a renewed vigor, capturing the regular-season PAC crown and hosting rights for the PAC Championship Tournament by posting a 27-18 overall record. The Bison came just shy of a title, however, dropping a2-1 decision to Thomas More College that has served as motivation in the offseason.
"The team has come into this year extremely focused on one goal," commented head coach Jan Forsty, the reigning PAC Coach of the Year. "Last year's result has left a bad taste in our mouths, and I know, especially for this group of seniors, they are determined to not let that happen again."
Bethany is not short on leadership heading into the 2016 campaign, as the Bison will see six seniors suit up for their final season, including all-conference performers Kayla Kelly (Pasadena, Md./Institute of Notre Dame) and Marissa Bosley (New Martinsville, W. Va./Magnolia).
Kelly, who not only earned First-Team All-PAC recognition, but also third-team regional honors by the National Fastpitch Coaches' Association (NFCA), had her most productive season as a junior, and will be looking to top those numbers in her final go-around.
"Physically, Kayla is one of the best players in the conference," remarked Forsty of her four-year outfielder. "The part she has added to her game, from which we will greatly benefit, is her ability to be a leader both on, and off, the field."
Last season, Kelly ranked second in the PAC in total hits (53) while hitting a career-high .381. The left fielder posted a .612 slugging percentage while notching an on-base percentage of .446. She led the PAC in total bases (85) and stolen bases (14), while tying a school record with six triples.
Bosley was selected as a First-Team All-PAC honoree following last season, appearing in all 38 games for the Green & White. The catcher hit a career-high .340 on the season, totaling 19 RBIs and 18 runs scored while posting nine multi-hit performances.
Perhaps her most important skill, Bosley fielded her position as well as anyone in the league, posting a .991 field percentage in 219 total chances.
"Having a catcher like Bosley is going to be vital to our team's success this season," remarked Forsty of her backstop. "The trust that our pitching staff has in her is paramount, and she is going to call some great games for us as a senior."
Along with Bosley behind the plate, the Bison also return three other key contributors to the infield in 2016, including seniors Deanna Mihalco (Patterson, N.Y./Brewster) and Ashlee Brill (Lancaster, Ohio/Lancaster) as well as junior Sara Coss (Bowie, Md./Bishop McNamara).
Mihalco returns for her final season at first base and will look to continue her influx of power into her senior campaign. Last year, the Second-Team All-PAC selection, led the team with a career-high six home runs while hitting .283. She also showed her patience at the plate, walking a conference-best 30 times on the year.
Following two seasons in the outfield, Brill made the jump to second base last season and helped solidify the infield. "Moving Ashlee to second was probable the best move I made all season last year," remarked Forsty. "She really gave us a boost defensively and we hope she continues to make that impact heading into her senior season."
Offensively in 2015, Brill hit a career-best .319 while scoring 27 runs, which ranked third on the team. She also collected seven multi-hit games and drove in 10 runs.
At third, Coss will take a larger role in the field after spending a majority of the 2015 season as the team's designated hitter. She made the most of her offensive chances, boosting her batting average 51 points to .344 during her sophomore year. She ranked seventh in the PAC in total hits (44) and boasted a team-best eight-game hitting streak during the season.
"Having Coss in a more defined role at third base I think is going to help us in a lot of different ways," said Forsty. "Her bat continues to get better everyday and people are going to be pleasantly surprised with her glove at third."
At shortstop, the Bison will look to replace four-year starter Jessica Kusnierz, who started 156 games in the middle of the infield. Both Aubrey Baehr (Evans City, Pa./Seneca Valley) and Kylee Clark (Heath, Ohio/Lakewood) will look to fill the void left by Kusnierz. Clark appeared in 23 games last season, hitting .300 on the year while making seven starts.
"Overall, we are very excited with what our infield has to offer," commented Forsty. "We like the different options that we have around the diamond, as well as the versatility of a lot of the players."
Along with Kelly, senior TJ Solomon (Beltsville, Md./Elizabeth Seton) and sophomore Jasmine Fuqua (Washington, Pa./Trinity) return to the field for the Green & White.
Solomon played well in her first full season as a starter in center field last year, hitting .265 with 19 RBIs and 27 hits.
"TJ's biggest strength is her ability to cover a large section of the outfield," said Forsty of her center fielder, who made just one error in 2015. "She brings a consistency to her defensive game that allows us to be more aggressive on the mound."
Fuqua will see more playing time during her sophomore campaign after backing senior Kadie Kelly a season ago. Fuqua saw time in 15 games in the outfield, not committing an error all year.
Other players that will see time in the outfield include senior Sam Newfrock (Endwell, N.Y./Endicott), and freshmen Amber LaMotte (Bellaire, Ohio/St. John's Central), Emily Folk (Hagerstown, Md./North Hagerstown) and Frencesca Capaldi (Steubenville, Ohio/Central Catholic).
"I think this outfield unit might be one of the most athletic that I have had the pleasure of coaching," said Forsty. "We have a great mixture of solid experience and young talent, and I believe we will be quite dangerous from those positions both in the field and at the plate."
The youngest group for the Bison will be the pitching staff, which brings back three sophomores and a freshman to the fold.
Sophomore Cassie Weiss (Washington, Pa./McGuffey) will be the leader of the group, having been named a First-Team All-PAC selection following the 2015 campaign. Last year, Weiss burst onto the conference scene, striking out 111 batters while posting a 3.28 ERA in 109.2 innings of work. Her best performance came in a complete-game victory over Misericordia in the ECAC South Regional Tournament when she struck out a career-high 16 batters.
"Weiss has shown me the ability to become a great four-year starter," remarked Forsty of her ace. "Last season, it took some time for her to get adjusted to the college level, but now that she has fully made that transition, we expect bigger things from her."
Binkley will serve as the number two starter behind Weiss, having started seven games for the Bison in 2015. Her top game came in a complete-game shutout with nine strikeouts against New England College.
"Despite being young, I have a lot of confidence in our pitching staff," commented Forsty. "The experience of Bosley behind the plate is going to be invaluable with the young staff and I am confident that our coaches can get the most out of their talent."
The Green & White will open their 2016 season with 10 games in Clermont, Florida before returning home for a doubleheader at Marietta on March 22. The Bison's first home date is scheduled for March 29 against Muskingum before opening conference play at Washington & Jefferson on April 2.
"We are really excited to get the season underway," remarked Coach Forsty. "We have had a chip on our shoulder since the end of last year, and we will look to carry that with us throughout the entire season."