Feb. 3, 2014
PITTSBURGH – The University of Pittsburgh softball team begins its season this Friday when the Panthers travel to California to take on CSU Bakersfield and then play in the Cal State Fullerton Tournament. With 14 returning players, the Panthers are poised to compete right away in the ACC.
The Panthers boast one of the top players in the conference in sophomore Tori Nirschl. The Carlsbad, Calif. native led the Panthers in almost every offensive statistical category last season en route to being named the 2013 Big East Rookie of the Year.
Nirschl carried a .333 batting average and hit 11 home runs, which is the fourth highest total in a single-season at Pitt. She also paced the team in hits (52), runs (35), walks (20), slugging percentage (.635) and on base percentage (.417).
Pitt also gets back second baseman Maggie Sevilla who missed all but seven games last season with a knee injury. Prior to getting hurt, Sevilla was batting .476 with 10 hits in 21 at bats. She will provide a solid bat in the heart of the Panthers’ lineup.
The remainder of the infield stays intact from last year as sophomore Taylor Henry (first), and juniors Carissa Throckmorton (shortstop) and Kaila Balatgek (third) all return with one more year of experience under their belt. Pitcher Savannah King will play some first base when she is not in the circle, while freshman Kaitlin Manuel will also vie for time at first.
King and Alexa Larkin are the top two returning pitchers for the Panthers as King appeared in 37 games last year and Larkin in 27. They will be helped out in the circle by freshman Jenna Lieber and Pitt’s lone senior, Lauren Vinson.
Along with Nirschl, Carly Thea, Jordan Fannin and Ashlee Sills return to the outfield after all saw significant playing time a year ago. Thea was second on the team in hits during Big East action with 16, seven of which were doubles.
Pitt’s non-conference schedule is one of the toughest in the country. In the first two weeks of the season, Pitt will play three of the top four teams ranked in the ESPN.com Top 25 poll in No. 1 Tennessee, No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 4 Michigan. Oklahoma defeated Tennessee in the WCWS to win the national championship last season. The Panthers will ultimately play 10 teams that made the 2013 NCAA Tournament, and four that played in the College World Series (Oklahoma, Tennessee, Michigan, USF).
Pitt opens its home schedule on March 15 when they host North Carolina. The Panthers have eight home series overall. Maryland will host the ACC Tournament which is scheduled to be played May 8-10.
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