To say the Pitt-Bradford softball team was young in 2012 might be an understatement.
At certain points during the season, the Panthers started as many as six freshmen in their lineup. They took their lumps. In the first 12 games of the season, the Blue and Gold faced three teams in the top 15 of NCAA Division III. In conference play, they gave up eight or more runs in six games.
In the AMCC tournament, the light apparently went on. After an opening 2-1 loss to D'Youville, Pitt-Bradford ripped off wins over Mount Aloysius and Pitt-Greensburg, two teams it failed to beat in the regular season.
The Panthers nearly advanced to the championship game, but fell to Penn State Altoona 1-0 in the semis. The one run? It was unearned, a consistent storyline throughout the season.
In 2013, Pitt-Bradford aims to play more like the team with its back against the wall and not the inexperienced group that often struggled to overcome adversity and mistakes.
Head coach Tina Phillips hopes the confidence gained in the postseason sticks with the Panthers.
"We made a great run at the end of the season, that my 11 returners gained confidence off of," said Phillips. "I hope that this team took lessons learned and will be tougher mentally; learning to compete every inning and playing the game a pitch at a time."
Junior Sydney Mosby takes the lead role with the departures of Lauren Kinniburgh and Erikka Rosplock. Kinniburgh ranks among the top hitters in program history and Rosplock was a two-year starter at shortstop.
Mosby earned second-team all-AMCC honors last year as both a pitcher and first basemen. On the mound, she posted a 3.42 ERA in 137.1 innings pitched. The junior ranked second in the AMCC with 110 strikeouts and powered the conference tourney run by allowing just two earned runs in 24 innings.
At the plate, Mosby led the team with a .330 batting average while driving in 15 runs.
The infield will be relatively new especially up the middle, and Phillips knows there will be a growing period, but the team's depth will be a greater strength than in years past.
"This team has a lot more depth and athleticism than we have had in 2-3 seasons," said Phillips. "That is our biggest improvement. I am two to three deep at each position so that adds a lot of competition and focus in practice."
Freshman Lauren Hogue will see time at first base when Mosby is on the mound. Houge played on the volleyball team in the fall, earning third-team all-AMCC honors.
Second base will be determined by the mix of junior Carly Lynn, sophomore Brianna Stenta and freshman Meagan Hillard. Senior Alyssa Cunningham can play both positions on the right side of the infield and could even see time in the outfield. She hit .348 in 12 conference games last year and was among the team leaders in fielding percentage.
Freshman Meagan Lewis will be the team's starting shortstop and third base is up for grabs amongst sophomore Heidi Lucke and freshmen Emily Fair and Amber Fox. Lucke, the incumbent, ranked third on the team in RBIs last year with 13.
Senior Jamie Winzeler and sophomore Olivia Taylor return to anchor the outfield. Winzeler led the team in hits in 2012 and Taylor started all 40 games as a freshman, hitting .248 with 13 RBIs and 17 runs scored. Stenta has the inside lead for the final spot and freshman Raven Edmond provides depth.
The rotation will be bolstered by the additions of Fair, Fox and freshman Jenifer Anthony. Sophomore Krista Jacobs is back as well. She pitched nearly 100 innings last year before missing the AMCC tournament altogether due to injury.
Mosby and Jacobs were the only two pitchers on the roster a year ago and fatigue played a role late in the season. The week off for finals was more beneficial to Mosby than anyone else.
Sophomore Bradford native Ang Comilla will start at catcher and be backed up by sophomores Courtney Schuler and Chelsea Thompson. Comilla was hitting .455 in AMCC play last year before suffering an injury against Penn State Altoona in mid-April. She appeared in only one more game.
Phillips is excited for the inter-squad competition, but learning to fill roles will be important in the team's success.
"With our depth, we all have to accept the roles we have to play and do our jobs," said Phillips. "We are still young, but I have 11 players with at least one year of collegiate experience so with that we will know what to better expect and can adjust quicker."
The focus during preseason has been plate discipline and improvements. Pitt-Bradford hit .245 as a team last year, ranking second to last in the conference.
"One thing we weren't consistent at last season was at the plate," said Phillips. "Most of this team has had a season under their belt now so hopefully we have a lot more better at-bats. Cutting down on strikeouts is what a lot of my players have talked about."
The Panthers open the season Monday in Fort Myers, Fla., where they will play a total of 10 games. While the schedule won't be as daunting as recent years in Arizona, the week will serve as a chance to see if this year's team has indeed improved.
"I think the Florida trip will give us the measuring stick we need," said Phillips. "It will tell us where we really are heading into the season and what we will need to focus on. We have many different lineups we can go with, so we will need to see what works."
Pitt-Bradford was picked to finish fifth in the AMCC preseason coaches' polls and will be chasing favorites Penn State Altoona and Penn State Behrend.
The Panthers hope the experience from a rocky 2012 will spell greater things in 2013. While the team is still relatively young-it features only four upperclassmen-Pitt-Bradford is better prepared for the ups and downs of a long season. Last year taught the Panthers that lesson.