SU Softball Preview: Can the Orange Rid Past Demons?
By Anthony Vasquez
CitrusTV’s Softball Beat Reporter
As snow and the occasional bone-chilling breeze pummels the 315, the start of spring sports across Syracuse offer hope of a changing season.
Speaking of change, one team looking to alter the trajectory of its program after a string of middling seasons is SU Softball.
The Orange are coming off a year where they offered a glimpse of its potential in the non-conference, but immediately turned that preview into false hope as ACC play kicked into gear.
If you tallied everything correctly, the ‘Cuse women finished a challenging season at 20-24 and 12-20 during conference play.
Despite the rather discouraging season, Syracuse still provided some memorable moments.
From its thrilling walk-off against #11 Clemson to a couple of convincing series wins against Virginia and Pittsburgh, it’s clear the Orange have something to build on heading into 2022.
Now, it’s important to note that this team is still in the midst of a rebuild as Head Coach Shannon Doepking is getting ready to start her fourth year at the helm.
Because of that, any expectations surrounding this team should reflect a rebuild that’s far from a finished product.
While a dream season ending near the top of the ACC standings probably isn’t in the cards this season, there are still some checkpoints that need to be hit as SU continues its climb.
Thankfully for the Orange, Doepking’s first recruiting classes are littered with emerging talent primed to take over larger roles on both sides of the ball.
Combine them with a couple of accomplished veterans returning for a fifth season and Syracuse may be onto something.
As the countdown for this year’s softball season closes in on 24 hours, let’s take an in-depth look at each position.
For the third straight season, Syracuse’s pitching staff has more questions than answers. The departure of ace Alexa Romero has Doepking scrambling to cover 20 starts, 9 complete games, and 125 innings.
Her contributions alone made up half of the Orange’s production inside the circle.
Returning starters Kaia Oliver, Lindsey Hendrix, and Jolie Gustave will need to take over the reigns as the arms of the future.
Unfortunately, the trio combined for an ERA over 6.00 and an opponents batting average north of .290 in 164 innings. Based on each of their 2021 showings alone, this could have been the clear weakness heading into the season if it weren’t for a gift from the transfer portal.
Graduate transfer Ariana Adams tossed 77 career innings at Texas with an ERA of 2.73. The Houston native held Big XII hitters to just a .239 batting average while also shining with four complete games.
Her experience and stat line alone props her up to be the projected ace ready to handle the bulk of the innings.
Rounding out the staff is true freshman southpaw Summer Clark who proudly sported a 0.87 ERA with 372 strikeouts in High School.
This may be the most experienced and talented portion of the Syracuse roster heading into the year. Second leading hitter Paris Woods is back for a 5th season while sophomore Angel Jasso looks to be a future keystone player.
Jasso started 39 games and mashed her way to third on the squad with 28 hits.
Look for each player to man at least the corner outfield spots, but with former starting CF Toni Martin graduating, some shifting may be in the cards.
Meanwhile, the third OF spot should be a battle between Olivia Press and Carli Campbell. A decision that’s as close of a call as this one will likely come down to the opening day lineup card Friday.
Both players saw limited action last season making Doepking’s choice even more tougher than it already is.
Neli Casares-Maher burst onto the scene by crushing the ball to the tune of a team-leading .341 batting average.
The stud shortstop led the team in virtually every offensive category from her 6 homers to an eye-popping .401 OBP.
She could be joined on the left side of the infield by New Jersey native Rebecca Clyde.
The third year player struggled mightily at the plate by only hitting .234 and slugging .298, but it was her solid .950 fielding percentage that kept her in the lineup.
Another key cog to this infield is going to have to be Siena transfer Yamila Evans. She’s coming off a season where she slashed .317/.381/.515 with 4 homers and 19 RBIs while wearing Siena green and yellow. Look for her to be a mainstay in the middle of the order offensively and at 2B or 3B defensively.
The infield is rounded off by true freshman Tessa Galipeau manning first while Mia Cruz and Taylor Posner will likely be utility players for Shannon Doepking.
SU has 4 catchers listed on their roster, but two are likely to split the bulk of the season.
Junior catcher Jude Padilla has 18 career starts at catcher and has yet to make an error in her career. The sure-handed Texan struggled at the plate in her two seasons by only slashing .172/.226/.379 in 29 career ABs.
Meanwhile, Geana Torres shares Padilla’s struggles at the plate and her confidence behind it. She’s played 17 games, 14 of which have been starts at catcher.
Despite the duos hitting woes, their veteran leadership will no doubt help guide a young pitching staff behind ace transfer Ariana Adams.
Shannon Doepking looks to be one of the few constants for the Orange staff as the season approaches.
Last year’s assistants Michael Steuerwald and Evan Ruechel have left the program leaving former Syracuse standout Sydney O’Hara as the only returning assistant.
She’ll be responsible for working primarily with the young pitching staff as they try and navigate through a daunting conference schedule.
She’s going to be joined by Katie McEachern – a former Fordham assistant coach for three seasons.
McEachern was the starting shortstop for Doepking while she was the head woman at Dartmouth.
Even with all the questions swirling around Skytop Softball Stadium, the ‘Cuse have a rather soft landing to start the new year.
ULM’s Best on the Bayou Classic features five games against mid-major opponents and its next midseason tournament, the Tarleton Softball Invitational, offers more of the same.
Two matchups against Auburn in the last week of February represents the toughest challenge in the non-conference.
SU will continue racking up its frequent flier miles as ACC play opens up with 9 consecutive conference road games and 4 non-conference battles in between.
Softball fans will have to wait until Pittsburgh flies up to the hill April 1st for a Skytop matchup.
The schedule does play into the hands of the Orange a bit as it avoids matchups against Florida St. and Clemson, leaving Duke and Notre Dame its toughest challenges.
Time will tell if Syracuse excels or takes a step back this season.
Either way, it’s time to buckle up and ride the roller coaster that is SU softball.