Stevens: New Mexico Lobos Softball 2012 Season Preview
Feb. 8, 2012
NEW MEXICO LOBOS SOFTBALL -- 2012 SEASON PREVIEW
Lobos at Kajikawa Classic - Tempe, Arizona (ASU) - Feb. 10-12
Friday: 6:30 p.m., Lobos vs. Oregon; 8:30 p.m., Lobos vs. Western Michigan
Saturday: 11:30 a.m., Lobos vs. Idaho State; 6:30 p.m., Lobos vs. Northwestern
Sunday: 1:30 p.m., Lobos vs. Texas State
GoLobos.com: Game Recaps, Box Scores
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
In the countdown to the season's start, junior pitcher Kaela DeBroeck is the self-appointed Big Ben on the New Mexico Lobos softball team. She could probably tell you the exact mileage from Albuquerque to Tempe and possibly even throw out an hours-and-minutes countdown to the Lobos' first pitch.
Which likely will come off her arm. New Mexico opens with No. 16 Oregon Friday in Tempe, Ariz.
"Kaela has come in every day for the last week and a half telling me exactly how many days until game day," said Erica Beach, UNM's second-year head coach. "We're ready."
The rest of the Lobos softball journey scheduled to run from Feb. 10 to May 11 (further if UNM goes into postseason play for the first time ever) won't be as easy to calibrate. There are lots of questions.
"There are going to be some challenges along the way," said Beach, who went 19-26 in her first season as a head coach. UNM has not had a winning season in softball since 2001.
For sure, the 2012 Lobos should be better because they lost no seniors from their 2011 campaign which showed a decisive step up from the 2010 season that saw UNM drop 23 of its final 24 games.
Beach returns the heart of her pitching staff in DeBroeck and Kari Gutierrez, although Gutierrez will miss games early with a shoulder injury. UNM has added freshman hurler, Carrie Sheehan, who will be tossed into the D-I fires early.
"We need her to step up and not consider herself to be a freshman, not use that as an excuse," said Beach of Sheehan. "We want her to step up and pitch like an upperclassmen right from the get-go. That's the challenge I've been placing on Carrie's shoulders -- to step up and to have no fear on the mound."
But UNM also has been hit by the injury bug that has forced Beach to do some lineup juggling before the first pitch has been thrown in Tempe.
"We don't have the depth anymore," said Beach. "We have exactly enough players to field the four (infield) positions. We had to move some bodies around. We are one or two injuries away from being in a tough position."
Carramusa steps into the hole at third base and brings with her a .300 batting average from 2011. She blasted 11 home runs last season. "She is unbelievable there," said Beach.
Jordyn Bledsoe, who had a shot to be Beach's shortstop in 2011 before going redshirt after a knee injury, is back at short. Chelsea Anaya (.278) returns to second base. Kerry Hodgins and transfer Jordan Sjostrand likely will both see time at first.
UNM returns catcher Jessica Garcia, who was on the All-West Region Second Team. Garcia, who hit a single home run in her first two seasons at UNM, tied the program mark by pounding 13 dingers in 2011.
She led the Lobos in batting with a .418 average, which was good for the No. 2 spot in the Mountain West. She was Top Ten in the MWC in batting (.418 - 2nd), slugging percentage (.801 - 1st), on-base percentage (.446 - 7th), hits (61-- 3rd), RBIs (37 - 8th), doubles (15 - 1st), home runs (13 - 2nd) and total bases (117 - 1st).
The no-senior team of 2011 features a core of strong seniors this season: Lujan-Dresslar, Garcia, Danielle Castro, Hodgins and Cox. Kaity Ingram, another talented senior, likely will redshirt in 2012. Castro and Carramusa, a junior, were named to the 2011 All-MWC Team.
"I like this team," said Beach. "I think we have great chemistry, a lot of passion and a lot of confidence.
"The team is really excited about the season. We have a lot of veterans, who are ready to take the lead. I expect this team to come out and compete whether we have nine able bodies or 18. Whoever is out there is going to step up. We are not making excuses."
The Lobos' growth in Beach's first season was reflected in the won-lost column. It also was reflected in the in-your-face demeanor those Lobos took with them onto the diamond. They played with energy, passion and confidence.
For Beach, it was important that the Lobos of 2011 push to a higher level and then stay at that level for the 2012 season.
"We are starting at a higher level than we did last year," said the Lobo coach, a former All-American pitcher at Arizona State. "We're optimistic about continuing to step up our wins and our overall performances."
The Lobos made a lot of steps in 2011. They won 19 games, up from 11 in 2010. UNM hit .275 as a team in 2010 with 23 homes runs. They hit 297 last year with 40 home runs. The Lobos won five MW games, up from one in 2010.
They swept a Colorado State team that swept UNM the season before which is one reason the Lobos were picked to finish fourth, one spot ahead of CSU in the five-team Mountain.
"We are definitely capable of surprising people in the conference," said Beach. "I don't put too much stock in preseason polls because everything changes once you step on the field. It's what you do day-in and day-out that defines who we are as a team.
"We felt position about our competitiveness last season and taking steps in the right direction."
The Lobos' schedule in 2012 is not an easy one. In Tempe, UNM will face No. 16 Oregon and Northwestern. They also will play Purdue, No. 17 Texas A&M, Oregon State, Utah, Texas Tech, New Mexico State, No. 18 Texas, No. 24 Tulsa, and a handful of California colleges loaded with talent.
"When I decided to make the schedule for this season, I decided to challenge us," said Beach, who said her Lobos need to play and beat "the teams that are constantly in the postseason and competing for the World Series."
"We are there to compete with them and learn what it takes to beat them. I want to challenge this team and see what they're made of and show them this is the level we need to be at on a regular basis. These are the type of games we have to learn how to win in order to achieve our goals."
The challenge Beach wants to throw at her Lobos is right down the road - Oregon. If you want to know the exact mileage, you might want to look up Kaela DeBroeck.