UB softball team looking to win despite freshman-filled lineup
Head coach Peel looks to ride eight-member freshmen class following down season
Buffalo softball head coach Trena Peel is ready to find out which of her players have the mental toughness to produce right away.
For Peel, this season isn’t about getting her young players experience in hopes of preparing them for their sophomore, junior and senior seasons. Peel wants the best nine players on the diamond, and based on the Bulls’ (1-4) first few games of the regular season, freshmen will be providing pivotal roles.
“It’s no longer about freshmen, sophomore, junior or senior. You’re a Division-I ballplayer, we’re gonna put the best nine DI ballplayers out there on the field. They had the fall to be freshmen,” Peel said. “Now they’re Division-I players, and it’s time to win some games.”
Buffalo, which went just 13-37 in Peel’s second season last year after an impressive and unexpected conference championship game appearance in 2014, is going to be relying on freshman heavily this season. Eight of the team’s 21 players are freshmen.
Peel said she has “pocket aces” in freshman duo Lace Smith and Ally Power, who combined to start all of five of the team’s games last weekend and will be Buffalo’s top two pitchers this season. Junior pitcher Bobbi Langlois will take the closer role this season, which shows the confidence Peel has in Smith and Power to lead the rotation.
Peel said she could see the duo of Smith and Power “dominating.” The pair allowed a 15 runs in a combined 28 innings last weekend.
Sophomore pitcher Charlotte Miller and freshman pitcher Taylor Light are also expected to be in the mix for innings both out of the bullpen and in spot-starts.
Former Bull Alexis Curtiss, UB’s all-time leader in hits, headlined the lineup last season. This year, it will be anchored by freshman third baseman Katie Weimer, who appears to have settled in as the No. 3 hitter in the lineup. Although the numbers weren’t great for her this weekend (2 of 14 at the plate), don’t expect to see a change just yet.
“[Weimer] shows up in practice,” Peel said. “She works hard, she has a great attitude, she’s positive, she gets it, she’s not scared, she takes her hack in the box. That’s what you want from a three-hole hitter. Opening weekend she drove the ball hard. The ball didn’t have eyes, she didn’t get as many hits, but she drives it hard, so I really like her and see a lot of potential.”
As far as replacing Curtiss’ leadership on such a young team, it appears the only two seniors on the team are stepping to the plate. Buffalo’s two seniors, Kenze Koch and Lauren Gambone, hit the team’s only two homeruns this past weekend.
Peel called Koch, a second baseman, the “mother hen” of the team. She said Koch is embracing her role as team leader on and off the field, even taking players to the grocery store.
Koch, who has been used mostly as a pinch runner and role player in her first three seasons, batted .400 in five games last weekend, including the home run, which was the first of her career. She will likely bounce around the batting order this season.
The team also is counting on Gambone to finally come full circle in her final season and provide the power bat in the middle of the lineup that the team is going to need.
Sophomore outfielder Danielle Lallos is making the move from shortstop to the outfield this season after struggling in the infield as a freshman.
“She struggled last year for us,” Peel said. “But I think she’s gonna surprise a lot of people.”
Peel knows there will be a learning curve with such a young team. The team’s 1-4 opening weekend speaks for itself. But she also understands the importance of peaking at the right time, and she feels that what may look like a bold strategy in February could pay big dividends when it comes time for conference play.
“We don’t need to sweep the first two weekends, and then go downhill in conference,” Peel said. “All of these things are building blocks to get us to where we need to be come the end of March, when we open up with Toledo for conference, that’s our goal.”
Michael Akelson is a sports staff writer. Sports desk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.