New coach, new identity for UB softball heading into season
Third baseman Hayley Barrow (standing) is entering her first season at Buffalo after two seasons at Central Florida. She is one of many new players who will play a major role in the team’s 2014 season. In this photo, sophomore outfielder Meghan McKeown slides into third base in Alumni Arena. Chad Cooper, The Spectrum
Trena Peel understands offensive prowess. This spring, her challenge is passing on what she knows to a UB team desperately in need of an offensive turnaround.
The Bulls scored only 2.7 runs per game last season while batting .266 as a team. The offense also took a hit during the offseason, losing three of its five double-digit RBI scorers from last season in seniors Alyssa Ward and Jessica Griffin and freshman Anissa Pinedo - who is no longer on the team.
Buffalo went 16-32 last season. There is reason for Peel, the first-year head coach, to feel confident that she can turn this Bulls program around. At Hampton University, she improved the Pirates' win total in all three of her seasons. After winning just 13 games in her first season in 2011, she won 25 and 34 games in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Last season, she led Hampton to its first NCAA Tournament berth since 1996.
Peel is hoping to create a similar turnaround in Buffalo but will have to do so with a group of new players.
The Bulls return just 10 players from last season after bringing in four freshmen and five transfers. Peel believes her lack of familiarity with her players is good for the team - all players, regardless of year, will have to prove themselves.
"It's about just coming in and wiping a clean slate," Peel said. "Some people that didn't play last year have a chance to prove themselves this year. I think it's good coming in fresh and not knowing anybody because every player day to day is trying to earn their spot on the field."
Peel does not plan on this season being one of rebuilding; she wants to win immediately. Players have called Peel's practices more organized and faster-paced compared to last year, and they have embraced their coach's mentality.
Senior outfielder Sammi Gallardo returns for her final season ranked third in UB softball history with 14 career home runs. Gallardo hit nine of the team's 19 home runs last season and led the team in RBIs (21) and slugging percentage (.490). Gallardo said her goal this season is to not just hit home runs but to get on base at any cost, whether it is with hits or being walked.
After making the All-MAC first team as a freshman, junior catcher/third baseman Alexis Curtiss led the team in batting average (.292) and ranked second on the team in RBIs (15) in her sophomore season. The Bulls will rely on Curtiss both behind and at the plate this season.
Senior centerfielder Holly Luciano is the Bulls' main threat to steal. Luciano led the team in stolen bases in 2012 with 10, and she was tied with Gallardo for the team lead with nine last season. Luciano looks to have a bounce-back season at the plate, as she batted .188 last year after hitting nearly 100 points higher in 2012.
The Bulls have a few additions on offense as well, including Central Florida transfer junior Hayley Barrow. Barrow made the Conference USA All-Freshman Team in 2012 and is expected to start at third base for the Bulls this season.
"This is kind of a complete new experience for me and I'm not used to it, so I'm looking at [the older players] to lean on and hopefully I'll grow to be a leader myself eventually," Barrow said. "I just hope I can make contributions to help us win, whether it be my hitting or my defense."
The pitching staff improved in the offseason under the mentorship of new pitching coach Lacey Middlebrooks. The Bulls' pitching staff had a 4.12 ERA last season and returns three of its four pitchers. Peel believes all of the pitchers are different and complement each other well.
Senior Tori Speckman was the Bulls' ace last season and will continue to be the top option in the pitching rotation in her final season. She led the team in wins (10), innings pitched (130) and strikeouts (108) and had an ERA of 2.15. Despite leading the team in innings, Speckman walked fewer batters than any other pitcher last season. Speckman also contributed coming out of the bullpen with three saves.
Speckman is the longest tenured pitcher on the team and embraces the leadership role in the rotation.
"There are great younger girls, and with the coaches I've been able to do a lot with them," Speckman said. "Everyone as a pitching staff has gotten stronger."
The Bulls begin their season at Southern University with a doubleheader on Friday and begin their conference schedule on March 28 against Ball State, which will also be their home opener.
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