Season Preview: Bronco Softball Looks to Build on Success
Boise State softball enters its third season of existence fresh off a third-place finish in the Western Athletic Conference. Fifteen letterwinners return from a Bronco group that won nine of its last 12 regular-season WAC games and placed third at the conference tournament. Head coach Erin Thorpe looks to carry the momentum of a strong finish in the program's second season into this year.
The 2011 squad features no seniors, but does not lack experience as eight starters are back from the third-place team of 2010. The Broncos are led by seven juniors-all beginning their third year in the program-eight sophomores and six freshmen.
In 2010, Boise State's offense became its calling card. The Broncos plated eight or more runs in 18 ballgames, while only being shutout four times. Boise State was one of just 32 teams in the country to average at least one home run per game.
"We're definitely more of a power offense-type team," Thorpe said. "That's kind of been my philosophy with starting a program. We needed to get fans and I thought we would get more fans in the seats if we had an entertaining team. We just hope to put on a show every time we're at home and it's been pretty successful for us."
The Broncos may lean on their big bats, but the entire pitching staff is back for the 2011 season and saw marked improvement as 2010 went along.
"We have four returning pitchers who all saw time last year," Thorpe said. "They are all one year wiser and one year better. We are also looking forward to great things from Morgan. We expect all five of our pitchers will see time in the circle this year."
Crump was tabbed a preseason All-WAC selection after breaking nearly every major single-season pitching record a year ago. She pitched 170 innings in her 37 appearances, including 29 starts on her way to 16 wins. The Elk Grove, Calif., native tossed 16 complete games and struck out 130, leading Boise State in both categories for the second-straight year.
"Allie earned the starting role and really matured throughout the season," Thorpe said. "We are looking for her to come out expecting to do the same thing this year."
Zell led the Broncos with a 3.16 ERA in 2010, appearing in 29 games and making 23 starts. She finished with a 10-10 record and posted three shutouts. Work made 23 appearances, 20 in a relief situation. The Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, native burst onto the scene at the WAC Tournament. Work pitched eight innings, surrendering just two hits and zero earned runs in three games to earn a spot on the all-tournament team.
"Lela did a great job in the relief spot," Thorpe said. "We expect her to be used much more in that role this season."
Collier provided the Broncos with important depth as a freshman. She appeared in 13 games and made five starts. The Sparks, Nev., native picked up a complete-game win in her first-career start against Wichita State (March 7).
Barnes enters her first season of collegiate softball after dominating the high school ranks. She compiled a 78-11 record in the circle and struck out 884 batters in her career, leading Grants Pass to a pair of state championships.
"What we saw out of her is a real competitive edge when she gets in games," said Thorpe. "We're really hoping to see great things out of her this season."
Sophomore Megan Harvey is back after making 15 starts at catcher before injury relegated her to a hitting role.
"Megan (Harvey) has a lot of offensive tools," Thorpe said. "She is a great on-base hitter, and she does have great power."
Junior Tazz Weatherly took on the role of back-up catcher for most of the season, but with Harvey back in the fold, will be looked to for outfield support. Sophomore Georgia Behne gives the Broncos depth behind the plate, having seen action in three games in 2010.
"As a third-year program, we have done a lot of our initial recruiting to seek out versatile athletes," Thorpe said. "As we get deeper into the program, we will be looking more to recruit players to take specific roles. At this point, we have intentionally signed very versatile athletes. That allows us to put the best team on the field without having to sacrifice for position limitations."
In all the uncertainty, junior Christina Capobianco will provide stability anchoring first base. Capobianco made 51 starts as a sophomore, 48 at first. She finished second on the team with 11 home runs and 42 RBI.
"We expect great things out of 'Capo,'" said Thorpe. "She has tons of potential. She is still young in her growth process as an athlete. Last year her numbers looked very similar to her freshman year, but she made great strides mentally as a sophomore. We expect her to take that next step as a team leader on and off the field this season."
Freshman Devon Bridges could also spell Capobianco at first base, while Crump may see time there as well.
"Devon came in with a lot of power potential and we are hoping she is able to make an impact this season," Thorpe said. "Allie has a lot of offensive potential. She hit for average last year and she has some power."
The biggest void left by the class of 2010 is two-time all-region selection Kathy Cox at third base. Cox started 110 of the Broncos' 113 games during her career at third as she led the team in batting average, hits, home runs and RBI both seasons in the blue and orange. It will be a team effort to replace her, and the Broncos have a number of players who could step into the role.
Possibilities abound at the hot corner where fans could see junior Kelly Sweeney, sophomore Jessica Kraft or freshmen Mackzenie Whyte, Trisha Nobriga or Jessica O'Donnell.
The middle of the infield will see many of the same names which are choices at third base, with sophomores Vanessa Alvarez and Holly Bourke additional options at second base. Alvarez made 47 starts as a freshman, 45 as the designated player, and became the Broncos' regular clean-up hitter.
"Vanessa had a great freshman campaign," Thorpe said, "and we are expecting a better season with more consistent at bats."
Bourke finished the season strong as she picked up WAC Hitter of the Week honors in the final regular season weekend. She hit .316 for the year making most of her starts in right field. Alvarez and Bourke tied for third on the team with 66 total bases.
Despite the number of options, developing a regular outfield alignment is a priority for Thorpe.
"We are hoping to find a consistent outfield line-up to build some continuity and allow for us to reach our potential," Thorpe said. "With most of our outfielders playing multiple positions it has led to a lot of movement over the last two seasons."
Most of the Broncos' speed rests in the outfield. The returning Broncos who played in the outfield accounted for 46 of the 51 stolen bases Boise State has coming back in 2011.
"Using our speed is something we are conscious of," Thorpe said. "We went from 14 stolen bases in 2009 to 77 last season. We are looking to grow on that."
"We are excited about a lot of our contests this season," Thorpe said. "We are going to get tested early, but that helped us last year. We need to start stronger this year. We need to see strides in some of our statistical categories like winning percentage and RPI. We would really like to see our team get to the postseason, and the schedule we put together can help us do that."
Boise State begins its season at the Long Beach State Kickoff Tournament, Feb. 12-13, against Loyola Marymount and Long Beach State. It is the first of six early-season tournaments featuring the Broncos this season. Boise State will open its home slate with the second-annual SpringHill Suites Invitational, March 4-6, at Mountain Cove Softball Field.
"Tournaments are important," Thorpe said. "We get a lot of different looks, and have the opportunity to play games against quality teams from conferences that some consider stronger than the WAC."
The WAC will be no slouch in 2011, however. Defending champion Hawai'i returns six starters from its historic run to the Women's College World Series. Fresno State took second place in the conference last season and earned a postseason berth. The Bulldogs' 2-2 showing at the Los Angeles Regional continued their streak of advancing to each of the NCAA's 29 postseasons.
The Broncos will travel to Hawai'i April 22-23, and host Fresno State April 29-30, in the final regular-season homestand of the season. Boise State will start conference play at home March 25-26, against Nevada.
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