GREENWOOD, Ind. – The Defiance College softball team was slated fifth in the 2011 HCAC Softball Coaches Preseason Poll released on Wednesday. Defiance had four players recognized as HCAC Preseason Players to Watch, as seniors Mallory Faling, Marah Robinson, Kelly Schnipke and Tasha Stucke each received the honor.
Transylvania took top honors in the poll with 80 points and eight first-place votes, while Bluffton was picked second with 71 points and claimed the final first-place vote. Anderson (59) and Manchester (53) were picked ahead of the Yellow Jackets, who garnered 48 points with their fifth-place ranking, and were followed by Franklin (34), Rose-Hulman (29), Mount St. Joseph (22), and Hanover (9).
The Yellow Jackets will lean on a talented senior class to propel past their fifth-place billing, as preseason players-to-watch, Faling, Robinson, Schnipke and Stucke look to return the squad to the HCAC tournament after a disappointing 2010 campaign.
Despite a relatively quiet year with the bat for the two-time All-HCAC performer, Faling still finished fourth on the team with a .408 on-base percentage by drawing a conference-best 29 walks in 95 at bats. Her on-base percentage jumped to .446 in HCAC contests and reached .481 at Sal Hench Field, where she posted a .308 batting average and hit .333 with runners in scoring position. The Clark Lake, Mich. native is set for a record-breaking senior season, as she sits just 21 putouts away from cracking DC's all-time top-ten list for career putouts, and needs just eight walks to become the DC's all-time walks leader. The senior slugger also ranks second in school history with 12 home runs, just four behind teammate, Marah Robinson, for the all-time record.
Robinson was the most dangerous offensive threat not named Megan Mitchell in the HCAC last season. She finished fourth in the HCAC in slugging percentage (.664), hits (52) and total bases (77), while her .448 batting average and .515 on-base percentage ranked second in the conference. The cleanup hitter was even more dangerous when it counted the most, hitting .500 with runners on base in conference games, and successfully advancing runners 53 times in 75 opportunities, or 70.7 percent of the time. At home, her batting average skyrocketed to .556 with runners in scoring position, and she successfully advanced runners at a 77.4 percent clip. The center fielder made several big plays defensively as well, and finished the season with 62 putouts and a .985 fielding percentage.
Schnipke took over as the ace of the pitching staff during her junior season and posted a team-best 3.51 earned run average through 93.2 innings of work. The always-accurate hurler surrendered just 17 walks while recording 43 strikeouts through 399 at bats, and allowed just eight walks against conference opponents through 41.2 innings pitched. Schnipke recorded five complete games in seven starts against HCAC opponents, and sported a 1.85 earned run average against conference foes. The Kalida, Ohio native ended the season on a tear, allowing just three earned runs in her last five starts of the season.
Stucke posted a career-best .358 batting average during her junior campaign and tied Robinson with a team-high 14 multi-hit games. The senior shortstop was terrific with runners in scoring position, elevating her batting average to .450 on her way to 25 RBI for the season. She recorded eight doubles in her last 14 games, and ended with a team-high 10 two-baggers to tie for fifth in the conference. Her four triples ranked second in the conference and gave her the fifth-most triples in school history. In addition to her offensive prowess, Stucke continued her excellent defensive play at shortstop, recording 89 putouts and 80 assists, while moving into sixth in program history on the all-time assists list.
Other players to keep an eye on this season include first baseman, Kaycee Butt, who posted 23 hits and 22 runs batted in last season, and second-year infielder Katie Miller, who recorded 26 hits and 23 RBI as a freshman last year. Shauna Bowers also gives the Yellow Jackets a proven pitcher behind Schnipke after recording 81.2 innings of work last season.
The Lady Jackets will begin the 2011 season on March 4, when they head to Danville, Ky., for a double header against Centre College.