Softball Preview: Many returners have Eagles excited for 2009
March 5, 2009
Dave Beyer, Sports Information Director
Benedictine University’s softball team, which was laden with many newcomers and had three freshmen pitch every inning in 2008, will definitely not have the element of surprise on its side for the 2009 campaign. That’s what happens when – despite the aforementioned odds – you post a 26-14 overall record and finish second in the rugged 13-team Northern Athletics Conference (NAC) race, especially with a roster barely old enough to vote.
“I’m guessing we can’t sneak up on too many people this year,” said head coach Kate Keller, entering her 11th season at the Eagles’ helm. “As a matter of fact, by having the type of success we did last season with a fairly young lineup, we probably shifted the pressure from the opponents to ourselves.
“But that’s OK. If we want to become a national-caliber team and be able to compete with the upper echelon, we have to be able to handle the pressure and expectations that come along with it. ‘Success’ one year doesn’t guarantee anything the next. We still have to work hard and be ready to play each and every day, taking nothing for granted.
“I guarantee you that the other teams we face will be ready for us.”
As Keller begins the laborious process of determining where each player best fits in her vision for 2009, she will at least know among her “weapons” are eight returning position starters and both starting pitchers from 2008. She will also have back one pitcher/ infielder from 2007 who missed all of last season due to arm surgery.
“I think we are blessed to have so many experienced players back,” said Keller. “As a coach, it allows you to be a little more advanced in your expectations and what you try to teach the players. The vast majority already ‘know the drill’ when it comes to how we do things.”
Heading the cast of Keller’s veterans is fourth-year catcher Kristin Bonk. Bonk enters 2009 with a career Benedictine batting average flirting with the .300 level (.296) and with a reputation for capably handling the Eagles’ pitchers during the course of her career.
“(Bonk) is very good in dealing with our pitching staff,” said Keller. “I think she’s able to be so effective because the other players respect her as a senior team leader and as someone who has been a starter for all four years here. That helps her relay what I want to see happening to the pitching staff.”
At first base, one of 2008’s most pleasant surprises – sophomore Cassie Cappetto – returns. Cappetto not only took the Eagles’ team by storm, but made a huge impact on the entire NAC conference. For both entities, she ranked at or near the leaders in batting average, slugging percentage, total hits, doubles, home runs, runs batted in and even fielding percentage.
As a result, Cappetto earned an armload of post-season honors. She was named as a second team NCAA Division III All-Great Lakes Region selection, as well as a first team All-NAC pick. Cappetto was also named to the NAC’s All-Rookie Team and as the circuit’s “Rookie of the Year.”
“Cassie had a very, very special season in 2008,” echoed Keller. “It’s pretty amazing when a freshman player can have that big of an impact on your team, let alone a conference. She is just very fundamentally sound and is a highly-
The middle and left side of the infield are where Keller may need to make some adjustments. Returning shortstop Lisa Hodges and second baseman Kaitlin Mitchell have both battled injuries since last season and their status is a question mark entering 2009. All-conference third baseman Nikki Schlagel was lost to graduation.
“There’s no doubt that we will need to audition some people at those infield spots,” said Keller. “But I have a great deal of confidence in some of our other returnees and newcomers to be able to step in.”
Back in the circle for Benedictine are the tandem of sophomore pitchers Brittney Carnell and Sam Corban. Between them, the Carnell-Corban duo accounted for 212 of the Eagles’ 256 innings pitched.
Lisa Rybak, who missed all of 2008 after arm surgery, is also back in the fold. Rybak threw 115 2/3 innings and hit .260 in 2007 as a freshman.
Carnell was a second team All-NAC selection and had a record of 15-8 overall. She had an earned run average (ERA) of 2.53 and a 70-to-36 strikeout-to-walks ratio.
Both Carnell and Corban were also named to the NAC’s All-Rookie Team.
Corban had a 7-4 record from the circle and a 3.30 ERA in her 76 1/3 innings of work. She also had a .303 batting average and was the team’s designated player or in the outfield when she wasn’t pitching.
In addition to Corban, who split time in left field, Keller also welcomes back a pair of first team All-NAC players in senior centerfielder Blair Erickson and junior right fielder Aimee Mahoney.
Erickson had an outstanding season, batting .438 with an on-base average of .505 (second only to Cappetto’s .507 on the team). Erickson drove in 13 runs and drew 11 walks, while also being honored on the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District 5 second team for her classroom prowess.
Mahoney, the Eagles’ leadoff batter, had an on-base average of .461 and a .372 batting average in 129 at-bats. Mahoney also hit for power with nine doubles, as well as team-leading totals in both triples (6) and home runs (4, tied with Cappetto). Mahoney drove in 31 runs and scored a team-high 49 times.
Mahoney’s 19 walks and nine stolen bases were also team-leading totals.
“Blair and Aimee give us two very strong and experienced players in the outfield,” said Keller. “Not only are both statistical leaders, but I also look for them to help the younger players mature because of their veteran status on the team.”
In addition to her strong core group of returning players, Keller is also pleased with her recruiting class.
“I think we brought in some players who can help out right away and contribute. I think they’ll be a good fit as we mold our 2009 team.”
Benedictine University is located in Lisle, Illinois, just 25 miles west of Chicago, and has branch campuses in Springfield, Illinois, and Mesa, Arizona. Founded as a Catholic university in 1887, Benedictine enrolls nearly 10,000 students in 56 undergraduate and 19 graduate programs. Forbes magazine named Benedictine among "America's Top Colleges" for the sixth consecutive year in 2016. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (hlcommission.org). For more information, contact (630) 829-6300, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ben.edu.