Setting the Scene
What: Gardner-Webb Softball Tournament
When: Friday, Feb. 17-Sunday, Feb. 19
Where: Brinkley Stadium (Boiling Springs, N.C.)
Bucknell Game Schedule
vs. Hampton – 10 a.m. | Live Stats
at Gardner-Webb – 2 p.m. | Live Stats | Watch Live
at Gardner-Webb – 2 p.m. | Live Stats
vs. Seton Hall – 6 p.m. | Live Stats
vs. Hampton – Noon | Live Stats
About the Bison
• Bucknell opens the 2017 softball season at the Gardner-Webb Tournament in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, where it will play two games against Hampton, two against the host ‘Runnin Bulldogs, and two against Seton Hall.
• Junior Meghan Kovac was recently voted to the Preseason All-Patriot League Team. A First Team All-Patriot League and ECAC All-Star selection a season ago, she broke the single-season school record with 20 doubles.
• The Bison were picked fourth in the Patriot League Preseason Poll.
• Bucknell opened last season with a 2-3 record at East Carolina’s Pirates Clash. The year before that, they went 4-0 at the season-opening Cleveland State Dome Tournament.
• The Bison open the season with three consecutive tournaments before making their annual trip to Florida for spring break. Following Gardner-Webb, they will compete at the Winthrop Invitational and George Washington’s Colonial Classic.
• Including Kovac (1B), Bucknell returns seven starters from last year’s team that qualified for the Patriot League Tournament for the fourth consecutive season. The others are Carolyn Wan (OF), Lauren Hadley (2B), Chaylen Andolino (3B), Anna Gimmestad (SS), Ryanne Rokos (OF), and Christina Martinez (C).
Scouting the Opponents
• Hampton – The Pirates are 0-3 after being swept against Elon, but all three games were decided by two runs or less. Jada Fields is 2-for-4 with a home run and two walks.
• Gardner-Webb – The ‘Runnin Bulldogs are 2-7 with five straight losses in games against North Carolina A&T, ETSU, and Charlotte. They have wins over Alabama A&M (7-3) and ETSU (8-7).
• Seton Hall – The Pirates also open the 2017 season this weekend. They went 20-34 overall and 7-12 in the Big East last season.
Series History with the Opponents
• Hampton won the only meeting against Bucknell by a 7-4 score in 2015.
• Bucknell and Gardner-Webb have only met twice. The teams split a pair of games in 2008.
• Seton Hall leads the all-time series against Bucknell 8-1. The teams last played in 2013, when they split a doubleheader.
• The Bison will play at the Winthrop Invitation on Feb. 24-26. They will play North Carolina Central, Winthrop, ETSU, Eastern Kentucky, and Mount St. Mary’s at the event.
Entering her second season as the head coach of Bucknell softball, Courtnay Foster knows the range of the team’s possible success or failure this season is wide in nature. The team is coming off its fourth consecutive appearance in the Patriot League Tournament and returns seven starters, including Preseason All-Patriot League selection Meghan Kovac. But, a former standout pitcher herself, Foster knows how uncertain the quality of inexperienced pitchers can be.
That’s the situation the Bison face this season with the loss of its two weekend starters from last year – Amanda Fazio and Dana Nielsen – both of which rank in the top 10 in every major category in program history. So while she is optimistic and has high hopes of the potential replacements, she isn’t ready to make any predictions for this season. In an extremely close vote of the league’s head coaches and sports information directors, the same vote that landed Kovac her preseason honor, the Bison were picked fourth behind Lehigh, Army West Point and defending champion Boston University.
“Doing the voting for the projected league standings I think was a little bit different conversation than it has been historically,” Foster said. “I still think Lehigh is the team to beat based on their track record, but Army didn’t lose any of their pitchers and they played very well in the circle last year. Boston lost their go-to arm, but they return several all-conference players. If you look at what everyone graduated last year, I think it’s going to be dependent on who gets their freshmen ready and gets production from their younger players.”
The following is a positional breakdown of the 2017 Bison…
The pitching staff is a good place to start since it also has the most questions. Lara Bean has the most experience of the group that is expected to vie for the main two starting nods. She earned Second Team All-Patriot League status as a freshman, but didn’t see a lot of time over the next two seasons due to the success of Fazio and Nielsen. She made 13 appearances last season, including five starts, using the time to work on her mechanics and delivery.
Joining her will be a pair of freshmen coming off illustrious high school careers. Raeanne Geffert was a three-time all-state selection in Connecticut and was twice named the state championship MVP after leading her team to the title. She went 88-9 with a 0.66 ERA, 52 shutouts and 1,108 strikeouts during her four-year career. Lauren Lichtenwalner was an all-state selection in Pennsylvania. She posted a 0.46 ERA with 122 strikeouts and 10 walks in 136 innings during her senior season.
“We have a lot of talent,” Foster said. “It will be interesting to see how those three are able to work as a staff, whether that mean each pitches one game at a time or that all three see time in any given game in our three-game conference series. They’re all willing to play any role. We’ve put them in a lot of different challenging situations in practice and they always step up to the plate. We know they will be well prepared and will throw a lot of strikes; it will just be a matter of us as a coaching staff figuring out the right combination.”
It appears Taylor Langtry will miss the season because of an injury, but that hasn’t stopped the junior from contributing. Foster has been impressed with the player’s attitude and willingness to help with the progression of the team’s younger pitchers.
One of the unquestioned leaders of the team is senior Christina Martinez, who is expected to be the team’s primary catcher for the third straight year. She started all 50 games last season and played a huge role in the success of the team’s pitching staff with her play behind the plate.
Foster is confident that her team is as solid defensively up the middle as any team in the conference with the return of a pair of sophomores that started as freshmen last season. Anna Gimmestad started 48 games at shortstop, while Lauren Hadley started 49 games at second base. Their early success wasn’t just limited to defense, though, as the pair put up solid offensive numbers, as well. Hadley hit .285 with six doubles, a triple, and two home runs, while Gimmestad batted .276 and was second on the team with 13 doubles.
“I think we can defend up the middle better than any team I’ve been a part of, including my playing days,” Foster said. “We have a tremendous amount of athleticism up the middle. Hadley and Gimmestad have gelled well together and their chemistry helps them get better. And in center field, Ryanne Rokos is really poised to take over in that spot. She is ready to take over ownership of our outfield and she covers a lot of ground.”
At first base, the Bison return one of the best offensive players in the league in Kovac. She was a First Team All-Patriot League honoree last year after hitting .399 with a school-record 20 doubles and added six home runs.
“It’s hard to believe, but she has improved a ton since last season,” Foster said of Kovac. “Obviously she has some pop, but she also covers the plate well and can hit to all fields. Having a hitter like that in the middle of your lineup is a huge asset.”
Senior Chaylen Andolino returns after starting all 50 games at third base last season. She hit .279 with three home runs. Alemany has also impressed the coaching staff in the preseason and will push Andolino for the spot.
Senior Jacklyn Tyburk was the team’s go-to pinch-hitter last season and is expected to see time in that role again in games she doesn’t crack the lineup. Maddie Minneci is capable of playing numerous positions in the infield. She played in 22 games last season, including three starts. Sophomore Alexis Champion saw time in three games as a freshman.
Foster mentioned Rokos when talking about the team’s defense up the middle, and it looks like the center field position is hers to lose after playing 41 games primarily as a corner outfielder last season. She batted .272 and is one of the players, along with Alemany, that has the potential to take over the leadoff spot in the lineup left vacant by the graduation of Fazio.
“We have a lot of competition in the outfield right now as everyone has improved tremendously over the past few months,” Foster said.