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Hofstra softball returns top hitters, strong pitching as it eyes a winning season

Sarah Cornell, a two-time Newsday Player of the

Sarah Cornell, a two-time Newsday Player of the Year out of Clarke High School, will have a major role in the circle as a freshman for Hofstra. Credit: Jonathan Heisler / Hofstra

Players in the Hofstra softball program are trying to prove that last season was an anomaly.

For the first time since 2011, the Pride missed the NCAA Tournament as it went 24-22 overall and 8-10 in the Colonial Athletic Association. In fact, the 10 conference losses equaled its total in the five previous years.

Which, in a way, has made an aspect of coach Larissa Anderson’s job even easier.

“That’s the motivation right there,” said Anderson, in her third season as head coach after spending 13 years before that on the staff. “I don’t have to worry about motivating them. Hofstra teams are always successful year after year, and any time that we have lost, which is not often, they have redemption.”

Hofstra opened its season Friday at the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation Invitation in Clearwater, Florida, with a 2-1 loss to Oklahoma State and a 6-5 victory over Saint Joseph’s. The Pride will play against teams such as Oklahoma State, South Florida and Wisconsin before its home opener March 21 against Fordham.

Hofstra has plenty of reasons to be optimistic this year. The Pride returns three of its top four hitters from last season in Michaela Transue, Brittany Allocca and Brielle Pietrafesa. Part of a program historically known for winning, the team certainly hasn’t forgotten about last season’s shortcomings.

“We’re so motivated,” said Allocca, who hit .336 with a team-leading nine home runs last season. “We can’t wait. Last year was a disappointment in a way, but we’re ready to come back.”

Hofstra isn’t entering the season at full strength. Transue, who led the team with a .364 average last season at shortstop, is recovering from a broken leg. Freshman Kristin Hallam could play significant innings at shortstop.

Along with other returning starters such as Nikki Mich alowski, Lacey Clark and Megan Patierno, Hofstra added a strong group of freshmen and transfers.

In particular, Sarah Edwards, a junior from Bay Shore who is transferring from Buffalo, is expected to contribute in the infield. She said Hofstra wasn’t on her radar, but upon deciding to transfer and seeing all of the championship trophies at Hofstra, she wanted to return to Long Island.

“It was really the legacy and tradition of the program that caught my eye,” she said.

Edwards added, “We’re so pumped to come in as underdogs now and kill it this season and shock the world and prove everyone wrong.”

That prompted a response from freshman pitcher Sarah Cornell, who said, “I just got the chills.”

Cornell, a two-time Newsday Long Island Player of the Year and Long Island’s all-time strikeout leader (1,345) out of Clarke High School, committed to Hofstra when she was in 10th grade.

“It just feels like home,” she said. “People have already told me, ‘Oh, I’m coming to your games,’ and that just gets me more excited to play. I just want to see all familiar faces. I just love to see people I know coming to games and I’m just really excited to start the season.”

Anderson said she calls the three pitchers on her staff — Cornell, Alyssa Irons and Jess Peslak, who went 17-10 with a 4.48 ERA as the team’s primary pitcher last season — the “trifecta.” Anderson has admired what she’s seen out of Cornell early in her Hofstra tenure.

“She’s a competitor and she knows how to win,” Anderson said. “I mean, her track record and her experience is outstanding. And winners win. That’s why they win. They know how to win . . . She’s a bulldog, and what’s neat is I don’t see a difference in her mentality from when I saw her pitching at Clarke to what she does in the bullpen to what she does in practice to what I see in a game.”

Cornell may be called upon to pitch major innings as a freshman and perform in a huge role. She can’t wait for that opportunity — the one she’s been waiting for since visiting as a ninth-grader.

“I didn’t think twice about my decision,” Cornell said. “I was like, ‘I’m coming to Hof stra.’ Everyone on Long Island knows what that is.”

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