By Dan Gardella
Asst. Sports Editor
The Sacred Heart University softball team was picked to finish atop the Northeast Conference (NEC) in the NEC preseason poll. Last year, Sacred Heart finished 10-8 in conference play, good for second best in the league.
“I’m really proud of these guys, especially the seniors,” said head coach Pam London. “We set out three years ago to really change the culture of this team and they absolutely did that. The last line in our mission statement is, ‘be the team again that is respected and admired,’ and I think a unanimous number one pick by the coaching staffs of the NEC proves that they have accomplished that goal.”
Following last season, former head coach Elizabeth Luckie retired after 29 seasons at the helm. By her side for the entire time was London.
“I’ve been with her [Luckie] for 30 years,” said London. “She’s been my best friend for 30 years and we just worked.”
According to London, the largest factor in the changing of the culture was the ability to hold each other accountable.
The Pioneers are picked ahead of conference powerhouse St. Francis U., who have won the past two seasons along with winning 35 straight conference games. In their two matchups last season, the Red Flash won 2-1, and 1-0.
“You remember how close you were, and you remember how bad you felt to not win it,” said London. “I know they are playing with a chip on their shoulder.”
One of the reasons Sacred Heart accomplished what they did last season was due to their pitchers, specifically seniors Kristen McCann and Emily Orosco. According to Sacred Heart Athletics, McCann and Orosco combined to win 25 games and strikeout 389 batters.
The team has not let the top ranking get into their head.
“We use the ranking to push each of us harder and get better every day,” said McCann.
During this offseason, McCann has worked on tightening her pitches. With her and Orosco nearing the ends of their college careers, the team is looking to develop the underclassmen pitchers by giving them reps in games.
“We are going to utilize them [pitchers]a lot in non-league games,” said London. “We are going to get their feet wet and really get them some action so they’re ready for next year.”
With the loss of Luckie, London still has the opportunity to work with pitching coach Jen Russell, and assistant coach Betsy Harvey, both of whom have played under London.
The Pioneers begin their season on Feb. 15, as they participate in the Gardner-Webb University Tournament, which takes place in Boiling Springs, N.C. They do not have a home game until March 20.
“I’m looking for confidence in them [the players],” said London. “They know how to play this game and they know how to play together. That’s what I want to see.”