Lehigh softball has a team huddle during practice at Ulrich Sports Complex on Feb. 19, 2017. The team will take on the University of Louisville on Friday in Orlando. (Dallas Basha/B&W Staff)

Lehigh softball picked to defend PL title in preseason poll

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Lehigh softball opens its season Feb. 23 in Orlando against the University of Louisville. The Mountain Hawks, ranked first in the Patriot League preseason poll, will attempt to defend their 2017 league title.

With many standout players returning, the Mountain Hawks are in a position to make their fifth consecutive championship run this year after finishing last season with a 36-20 overall record and 16-2 league record.

Led by its strong hitters, the team batted an impressive .290 last season and will return four of five players who hit over .300, including senior outfielder Nicole Yozzo, junior outfielder Ashley Rabago, junior catcher and infielder Brianna Gerhardt and senior catcher Carolyn Wright.

On the mound, the pitching unit gave up just over three earned runs a game last year and looks to keep that momentum going. However, Christine Campbell, the 2017 Patriot League pitcher of the year, graduated last spring. Junior Emily Sorem will be tasked with stepping up and improving her 7-0 record and 1.22 ERA during league play last season.

“I’m the only upperclassman (pitcher),” Sorem said. “I definitely feel like I have more of a role on and off the field in regard to the pitching staff.”

Sorem said it’s crucial to take every game one inning at a time and every season one day at a time to ensure success. She said while she doesn’t have any individual goals, she goes out and does the best she can every time she pitches.

Sorem was named the Patriot League preseason pitcher of the year and is joined by Yozzo and Wright on the preseason all-league team.

“So far, our team has actually been looking really good in the preseason,” Wright said. “We’ve done a lot of live hitting and pitching, and both sides of that have looked really good. We need to keep that going and be really consistent.”

Coach Fran Troyan said Wright excels at driving in runs.

“It remains to be seen who else is going to drive runs in, but we have a bunch of people in practice who have shown they are quite capable of that as well,” Troyan said.

On the team’s offense, Troyan said while anyone can contribute, his starting outfielders Yozzo, Rabago and sophomore outfielder Hannah Edwards will play key roles in the team’s success. He said the outfield consists of fast women who are able to get on base easily.

Lehigh softball will depend on a balanced team effort if it wants to accomplish its goal of winning another league championship. Troyan has high hopes for his team based on what he’s seen in the preseason.

“I’m excited because anyone on our roster could be the key player on any given day,” he said. “We’ve got an incredible amount of depth, and while I wouldn’t say we have any real superstars, anyone who is in our lineup has a chance to make a difference.”

Troyan said his only concern heading into the season is that the team could lose confidence if it doesn’t play well against tough competitors early on.

Wright agreed with Troyan and said it will be important for the team to keep pushing forward even if its opening slate of games does not go as well as hoped.

“We have some really tough competition at the start,” Wright said. “So we need to keep what we’ve had in practice going and not have a couple good teams put us in a slump right at the beginning.”

The Mountain Hawks play against five teams in their opening weekend. They play No. 22 the University of Minnesota Feb. 24 in Orlando.

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