Softball team looks to defeat Fontbonne, swipe SLIAC crown

Webster University senior first baseman Hanna Brindisi gets ready to apply a tag to junior catcher Kaytlin Burczak during a March 6 practice at Blackburn Park. The Gorloks have opened the season with a 3-1 record. PHOTO BY GALE WHITEHEAD.

With 11 players returning, the Webster University softball team is looking to recapture the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title. The Gorloks’ streak of four consecutive conference championships was snapped by rival Fontbonne University last season when the Griffins beat Webster 2-1 in the SLIAC championship game.

Webster softball began its new season on March 3.

“Ideally, we would all like to go to the World Series,” said sophomore second baseman Kristie Konersmann. “But we’re going to take every game one at a time. Go for No. 1 in the conference, and every day improve.”

The softball squad brings in six new players as well as the returners, including one freshman — first baseman Taylor Gibbs — to assist the Gorloks as they attempt to make the SLIAC tournament finals for the eighth straight season. Junior shortstop Jessica Arcangel said having so many returning players helps the team’s confidence.

“I think it helps a lot, especially because all of the returners are upperclassmen,” Arcangel said. “A lot of the returners bring a different type of leadership to the team.”

Arcangel, Konersmann and team-leading base stealer Tabatha Bahre, a senior third baseman, return to Webster’s infield. However, the offense will be without injured senior first baseman Hanna Brindisi. Brindisi led Webster with nine home runs and 42 RBIs last year. Webster coach Chris Eaton said Gibbs will see time at first base during Brindisi’s absence.

“We need somebody to step up while she’s out,” Eaton said.

Senior Brandi Strowman and sophomore Diana Haynes will once again anchor the outfield. Newcomers Julie Hartung, a senior, and sophomores Danielle LaVenture and Kristin Rolla will also compete for spots in the outfield.

Junior Aly Watson, a transfer from Jefferson College, will add depth as catcher while junior Kaytlin Burczak returns behind the plate. Arcangel said all the returning offense could become the team’s strength.

“All around, we’re pretty strong, but our strongest point should be our offense,” Arcangel said. “We don’t have a small ball team. We have a lot of hitters who can hit for power, average, extra bases.”

The pitching duo of junior Ashley Meagher and sophomore Trisha Thompson will be the Gorloks’ main hurlers. Meagher won SLIAC Pitcher of the Year in 2011 and won 10 games. Thompson posted a 2.14 ERA, one of the lowest in the conference. Both were named All-Conference Players last season. Eaton, who is in his fourth year as coach, said it’s good to have Meagher and Thompson returning with their experience.

“Both helped out a lot,” Eaton said. “We also have (sophomore) Sam Powers. She’s going to get some pitching time, too.”

Webster opened the season with two doubleheaders in Jackson, Miss. In game one, Webster had to shake off its rust as the Gorloks fell 9-1 to host Millsaps College.

“We had to get the first game out of the way, kick off the dust,” Konersmann said. “We had to have that one game to get it all out of the way. You don’t want to stay in the cycle of making errors and making mistakes.”

Webster reversed its fortune in the second game of the March 3 doubleheader. The Gorloks took down Austin College 9-1 to even their record at 1-1.

Webster’s winning ways continued on March 4, as the team swept the day’s doubleheader against the same two opponents. Webster knocked off Austin 5-2 and Millsaps 6-1. Meagher (1-1) and Thompson (2-0) both threw complete games to improve the team’s record to 3-1.

“Each game we made an improvement, which is what I like to see,” Konersmann said. “We have some little wrinkles to work out, but overall we definitely stepped up a little bit more each game. We saw some pretty good performances from a lot of players.”

Though the season is in its early stages, the team wants to stay focused as it works toward another conference championship.

“Our goal is always to get to the World Series,” Eaton said. “But then we have other goals we have to get to get there. Conference champs is always on the top of everybody’s list, and then conference tournament champs, too.”

The Gorloks do not see being SLIAC champions as their ceiling. With a number of returning and new players, the team aims to make a run in the NCAA tournament.

“I think if we do our jobs, stay focused on softball, we can go pretty far,” Arcangel said. “Our biggest opponent is ourselves, and it depends on whether or not we let us take ourselves that far. We have talented upperclassmen — that’s going to help. We have underclassmen who have a lot of talent as well. I feel like we have a high chance of going far — it depends whether or not we let ourselves do that.”

The Gorloks play five doubleheaders during their spring break trip to California. Webster then travels to Indiana to take on DePauw University in a March 17 doubleheader. The Gorloks play their first home games of the season on March 24 when they host Illinois Wesleyan University at Blackburn Park.

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