How does a team follow up the greatest season in its history? For Seminole State College of Florida’s fastpitch softball team, the defending state champions, the goal is to build on last year’s successes.
The Raiders, who opened home play on Feb. 8, saw a number of firsts last year: first Florida College System Activities Association (FCSAA) state championship and first appearance in the NJCAA National Tournament.
Duplicating that success won’t be easy, says longtime Head Coach Courtney Miller. The team lost six All-Mid-Florida Conference (MFC) players, including five who were named to the All-FCSAA team and two All-Americans. While the 2013 Raiders aren’t young on paper – more than half the players on the roster are sophomores – many players lack any considerable in-game experience.
“We lost a lot offensively,” says Miller, who is in her 19th season at Seminole State. “We’ll have to make up for it with strong defense and pitching.”
With the young talent, there may be some growing pains early in the season, but the pieces are in place for a strong conference finish and another deep run in the FCSAA State Tournament, Miller says.
“Our goal this year is obviously to repeat as state champions, and we have the potential to win the conference,” Miller says. “But we have to live up to that potential. It will be a hard row to hoe if the team loses focus.”
With only three starters returning, there are a lot of questions heading into the season. But Coach Miller sees that as an opportunity for development.
“This is a different team from last year’s,” says Miller. “We have less power, but we have more speed to make up for it. We’ll have to play a different style of ball this season.”
Miller expects fewer big hits, but more steals and faster defense. A speedy outfield, a solid infield and a deep pitching staff should be enough to set the tone and keep games flowing at a preferable pace for the Raiders.
“I’m looking forward to trying new things in February, giving different girls the opportunity to step into the lineup, to see how the team comes together,” Miller says.
Last season, the Raiders had four of the top 20 hitters in Florida. Although it will be tough to match that success, the 2013 team has some powerful and savvy offense of its own.
Sophomore veteran Andrea Monayarji, of Orlando, who last season had 11 doubles and 31 RBIs, is the most accomplished Raider returning on offense. She will appear early in the new-look lineup, anchoring it with leadership and experience.
Leading off the rotation, and helping Monayarji set the tone, will be redshirt freshman Stefanie “Skip” Williams, of Sorrento, who missed the 2012 season due to injury but led the Raiders in batting during the previous exhibition season. Seminole State also will get some power hitting from freshman Meagan Unverdorben, of Crystal River, the Raiders’ top designated hitter and one of their strongest offensive weapons.
“She has the potential to be the top power hitter on the team,” Miller says. “She should be one of the top run producers this spring.”
Strong-armed outfielder Joanna Malandrucco, of Jacksonville, should give the Raiders another strong bat in the lineup, and Seminole State will see a boost in quickness from speedy sophomores Alyssa Bastin, of Orlando (University High), and Alexis Granito, of DeBary (DeLand High).
The lineup is a work in progress, but for the opening weeks of the season, Coach Miller says, “If a girl is hitting well, she’ll play.”
On the Mound
Pitching might be the greatest strength for the 2013 Raiders, Miller says.
“We have a lot of depth,” she says. “It’s a luxury to have so many talented pitchers who can play, including some good relievers. We play a lot of doubleheaders, so it’s important to have multiple quality pitchers.”
The lone returning pitcher is Marshanna Boyette, of Live Oak. She only pitched 54 innings last season, amassing a 3-2 record and a 2.71 ERA, but she picked up some quality wins along the way and has a good understanding of the level of competition the Raiders will face.
Coker College transfer Katie Lee, of DeBary, will provide some valuable in-game experience to the otherwise young staff. She led the team in strikeouts during the fall exhibition season.
The three incoming freshmen give reason to be excited as well: Megan LeFon, of Melbourne, helped lead Eau Gallie High School to a state championship, and she led the Raiders in ERA (1.14) during the fall exhibition season, giving up just a .202 batting average. Kaylin Santiago, of Orlando (University High), led the Raiders in wins during the fall with five, and with her .308 average at the plate, she should be able to contribute on offense even when she isn’t pitching. Ashlynn Johnson, of Hudson, had a strong fall as well, and she should contribute to the great depth of the pitching staff.
Behind the Plate
The Raiders have some experience behind the plate, with sophomores Adrienne LeBeau, of Titusville, and Elizabeth Eby, of Orlando (University High), returning at catcher. Utility player Eby was solid at second base last year, earning All-Conference Honorable Mention honors, and she will divide her time this season between playing catcher and third base. LeBeau has experience behind the plate, which makes her a valuable asset to the team. She was the Raiders’ top pinch-hitter last season, so she also will bring some keen offensive awareness to the batting lineup.
Newcomer Samantha Roser, an Oviedo High School grad, will see time at catcher off the bench, especially early in the season.
Andrea Monayarji is Seminole State’s lone returner working the bases full-time. She was a leader in the infield last season, finishing 2012 at No. 4 statewide in putouts and No. 7 in fielding percentage. She also led the Raiders in hitting during the fall exhibition season. She will anchor the infield along with Skip Williams, who will be positioned at second base.
The rest of the infield will be covered by newcomers to the starting lineup. Sophomore Dannielle Walsh, of Winter Springs (Lake Howell), and freshman Haley Brown, of St. Petersburg, will compete early in the spring for time at shortstop. Meagan Unverdorben will split time at third base with Elizabeth Eby, and freshman Stacy Iselin, of Jacksonville, will provide depth at first base off the bench.
Leading the way in the outfield will be sophomore centerfielder Rachel Sherman, of Winter Springs, one of the Raiders’ most-accomplished veteran players. She made several game-saving plays during last year’s FCSAA State Championship tournament, snagging a slot on the Atlantic District All-Tournament Team.
Joanna Malandrucco, Alexis Granito, Alyssa Bastin and Priscilla Gonzalez, of Miami, all will see time in the outfield. Malandrucco, who has one of the strongest arms on the team, started 32 games last year, and Granito will bring some offensive experience and speed to the lineup.
Priscilla Gonzalez, who played most of last season at first base, will make the move to the outfield for some added depth. She finished last season ranked No. 2 in the state in fielding percentage, with 141 putouts against just one error.
Season at a Glance
The Raiders’ season kicked off Saturday, Jan. 26, at the JUCO Kickoff Classic in Clearwater, followed by a stretch of doubleheaders on the road.
“I’ll be playing a lot of kids during February to give them an opportunity,” Miller says. “There are about four starting positions that are wide open right now, and out-of-conference performance might determine who gets in the lineup.”
The Raiders will see their share of tough competition during that time, including a doubleheader in Bradenton against State College of Florida, whom the Raiders defeated last season to win the state championship. The Raiders also will play doubleheaders, both home and away, against perennial powers Brevard Community College (at home Feb. 23) and Indian River State College (at home March 8).
“It seems like almost every team on our schedule is getting better,” Miller says. “There’s a lot of parity around the state. And, as the defending champs, we have a target on our backs.”
Miller expects the MFC to be better across the board this season, making it a tight race for the conference championship. This could play to Seminole State’s strengths: With such a deep pitching staff and so much potential talent, Miller expects the Raiders to thrive in close, low-scoring games, which could be the difference between a conference champion and a runner-up – or between making the postseason and staying home.
“The girls push each other, and they are very competitive,” Miller says. “They’ll play hard because they don’t ever want to lose. They have a challenge this year, and they’re excited to step up to it.”
All Raider home events are free to Seminole State students, faculty and staff with a valid Seminole State ID. Admission is also available to the general public for a small fee. For more information, and to view the Raiders' complete season schedule, please visit the Seminole State softball home page.