Stevens: New Mexico Lobos' Softball -- 2013 Season Preview
Feb. 5, 2013
NEW MEXICO LOBOS SOFTBALL - SEASON PREVIEW
Lobos at Kajikawa Classic - Tempe, Arizona (ASU) Feb. 7-9
Thursday: 1:30 p.m., Lobos vs. Creighton; 7 p.m., Lobos vs. Arizona State
Friday: 10 a.m., Lobos vs. Cal Poly; 12:30 p.m., Lobos vs. San Jose State
Saturday: 11:30 a.m. - Lobos vs. Oklahoma
Lobos at Hotel Encanto Classic - Las Cruces (NMSU) - Feb. 10
Sunday: Noon, Lobos vs. Nebraska; 2 p.m., Lobos vs. New Mexico State
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
There's an old saying: "Start as you plan to go." And it's a good way to approach a relationship, a job - an athletic season.
The University of New Mexico Lobos softball team in 2012 definitely started as it planned to go: 17-2. But there was no finish. In 2013, the plan is to add the finish.
"We are hungry," said senior outfielder, Sheryl Guillermo. "We came out last year like it was going to be our year and we didn't finish it. We know it's important to maintain throughout the season. The seniors see everything coming together and we think this could be a great season for us.
"We want to go out with a bang."
The Lobos' bang last year came early. There was a different sound later. UNM roared to a 5-0 mark in the Arizona State Kajikawa Classic, cracked the Top 25 for the first time in 13 years, and actually had a huge step-up season with a 27-25 mark that was the programs most win since 2004.
But the Lobos did not play well in the Mountain West race (2-10) - a race that marks that all-important finish.
"We need to peak in conference and that's something we have yet to do," said Lobo Coach Erica Beach. "That's what gets you into postseason play (something UNM has never done).
"We were ranked most of last season and the girls will have a target on their backs. We will not sneak up on anybody this year. We will be playing against teams that are going to pitch their best, play their best lineup, and step up to play us. That's a challenge and a pressure we have to get used to."
The Lobos of 2013 probably will not be the ball smashers of 2012. The Lobos of 2012, behind Jessica Garcia and Stefanie Carramusa, were ranked No. 1 in the nation for home runs with 1.83 per game and 95 total. That's an obscene amount of long balls.
The Lobos of 2013 will produce runs through balance, singles, steals, slaps, craftiness - and a few dingers.
"This year's team is vastly different from last year's," said Beach, a former ASU All-American pitcher, who will be honored by ASU at this week's Kajikawa tourney.
"It's a completely different feel and our identity has to be different. We lost about 70 of the home runs out of the 95 we hit and we will be different at the plate."
UNM hit .311 as a team last year compared to .332 for the enemy. The Lobos had seven players (at least 30 at-bats) above .280 and four above .320. The Lobos had a Mountain West record .568 slugging percentage behind those 95 home runs.
"This year we are more a team that needs to put the ball in play," said Guillermo "We will have to go out and produce runs rather than just hitting a home run to get people in. This team is a lot different."
The Lobos also need to be a little different on the pitching plate. Beach's words best describe that need for change: "We won on our offense last year and everybody knows that."
The circle should be an improvement this season for at least this reason: There are five pitchers fighting to own it.
Beach returns seniors Kaela DeBroeck and Kari Gutierrez. Carrie Sheehan, a sophomore, is back with a valuable season of D-I ball behind her (31 appearances, 19 starts). UNM has added freshman lefty Lauren Soles and freshman righty Lisa Rodrigues. This is a staff with a lot of different looks.
"We have improved our circle," said Beach. "Every pitcher on our staff is different. We have a lot of variation. We have the depth to create changes in the circle and we don't have to worry about fatigue. We have the ability to keep fresh arms in there and stay strong in the circle during conference, which we weren't able to do last year.
"They are all going to get their innings, their chances. Well see who comes through in the nitty gritty."
The UNM's team ERA last year was 5.46 - 6.88 in MW play. DeBroeck had the only winning mark in the circle at 13-6. The Lobos had 52 strikeouts and 86 walks. That ratio needs to change. There should be improvement from the returning pitchers, but the additions of Soles and Rodriguez could be pivotal.
"There will be a lot of rotation with five of us fighting for spots," said Soles, who played club ball with the So Cal Jets. "We will have a lot of diversity on the mound and we will have more chances to win games with pitching.
"I think every pitcher wants to be `the' pitcher, but you can't always have that because there is no way your arm can go the whole season."
Soles has power, movement and a strong changeup. Rodrigues is a crafty, down-ball pitcher. She can induce a lot of grounders out of batters. Beach likes the defense behind her pitchers.
UNM returns 12 letterwinners and four starters. There are six first-year Lobos.
UNM has freshman Naomi Tellez behind the plate backed by Tracy Amber and Ally Hakeem. The infield looks set behind Jordan Sjostrand (1st), Chelsea Anaya (2nd), Jordyn Bledsoe (short) and Kaity Ingram (3rd).
"We don't' even work out anybody behind (Anaya)," said Beach. She is a fantastic second baseman and an all-around great player. And Jordan has earned her spot at first."
The Lobos also are working out Ingram and Mia Hignojos at short as Bledsoe is still recovering from her third ACL surgery. Karissa Haleman also is a solid utility infielder and could be at third if Ingram moves around. "We have options," said Beach.
Guillermo is a lock in left field and freshman Mariah Rimmer has taken possession of centerfield. The right field spot looks to be a battle between senior Cassandra Kalapsa and freshman Courtney Geith. UNM has a solid utility outfielder in Nykilah Torres.
"Sheryl (Guillermo) has improved every year and continues to impress me with her growth offensively and defensively," said Beach. "She is more aggressive, more confident. She is dangerous at the plate and has gotten so good with her bat control.
"Mariah is ridiculously fast. She covers an insane amount of ground and catches balls I've never seen an outfielder catch. Right field might be a battle all season and it probably will come down to who produces at the plate."
The mix promises to produce an exciting season and there definitely will be a mix of talent both in the circle and in the batter's box.
"We have a mix of the old and new and I really can't make any predictions about this season," said Beach. "We have talent and athleticism and we are better in the circle. We will go out and compete and play with energy.
"But the girls have to accept the responsibility of stepping it up on the field. They have to bring it on the field."
For sure, the Lobos are looking to start the way they plan to go. They also plan to bring a finish.
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former award-winning Sports Columnist and Associate Sports Editor at The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.