Chloe Fitzgerald said she couldn’t find any ketchup-flavored potato chips.
With a shortage of her superstitious pregame snack around Hofstra University, she went on Amazon.com and bought an entire case of them. The Hofstra softball team’s leadoff hitter couldn’t set the table without first having her appetizer.
“Now we have 40 bags,” Fitzgerald said. “Hopefully it lasts the whole season.”
Or, hopefully it doesn’t. Because running out of chips would likely mean a long season, resulting in what the Pride hopes is a regional championship.
The defending CAA champions return all but one starter from a lineup that tied a program record with 56 home runs last season. After Fitzgerald, a lefty slapper who hit .372 last season, the lineup features players capable of putting the ball over the fence.
“Two through nine in the lineup can hit the long ball,” said Caryn Bailey, a senior centerfielder who hits second. “You can’t help but think, ‘Is she the one that’s going to do it?”’
None did so more last season than Bailey. With increased plate discipline and what she said was a better understanding of what she can and can’t do with a pitch, Bailey set career highs with 16 home runs and 52 RBIs.
Hitting behind her are run producers Kim Smith and Lacey Clark, who each hit six homers.
Brittany Allocca, who started at first as a freshman, shifts to catcher. With Bailey, Fitzgerald, and Brielle Pietrafesa, a rightfielder who hit seven home runs as a freshman, the outfield returns intact. As does the strong double-play combination of Clark and shortstop Michaela Transue, who also hit six home runs.
The combination of a veteran defense and power bats will take some pressure off an inexperienced pitching committee. Jessica Peslak, who made just six appearances last season because of injury, will be joined by freshman Madison Grimm and Courtney Scarpato. Hofstra coach Larissa Anderson says the three could be used like a baseball staff, with a starter, middle reliever, and closer.
Peslack and Grimm — who both throw a curveball, screwball, and rise ball — will rotate as starters and could relieve one another when necessary. Scarpato, who was recruited as a second baseman and converted into a pitcher, brings a different repertoire with her drop ball.
“Our pitchers have to keep the ball in the ballpark,” Anderson said. “They have to make hitters put the ball in play because we have such a strong defense and we can’t defend the home run.”
But they sure can hit a bunch of them. After falling in the regional semifinals last season, the Pride believes it can hit its way even further.
“We have set some lofty goals this year, and I don’t mean unachievable by any means,” Bailey said. “We are going for the regional championship. That’s definitely attainable with our experience and with the pitching developing on our team.”
Which is why 40 bags of chips may not be enough. Last season it was just Fitzgerald and Nikki Michalowski who ate them before games. This season, they want everyone on the team to do so.
“It’s going to be a requirement,” Fitzgerald said. “So we may have to order more.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Caryn Bailey, CF, Sr.
The first-team NFCA all-region selection hit .382, led the CAA with 16 home runs, and last May was named USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Week.
Chloe Fitzgerald, LF, Sr.
The leadoff slap hitter batted .372, scored 38 runs and reached safely on 10 of 12 stolen base attempts.
Kim Smith, 3B, Sr.
Hit .313 with six home runs and 26 RBIs, and is surehanded at third, having turned four double plays last season.
Lacey Clark, 2B, Jr.
Hit .329, including a 15-game hitting streak, crushed six home runs, including two grand slams, and drove in 35 runs.
Brittany Allocca, C, Soph.
Hit five home runs and drove in 35 runs as a freshman. Posted a .988 fielding percentage at first but will shift to catcher.