Behind door No. 1 is experience. Behind door No. 2 is talent. If you are University at Albany head softball coach Chris Cannata, which door would you choose?
What’s that? You want both? Sorry, not this year.
The 32-15 Great Danes, who barely qualified for the America East Conference tournament a year ago and then surprised everyone by winning the championship, have appeared in three straight NCAA tournaments.
Last year’s team was young, but this year’s squad, which clinched the regular-season title over the weekend and will be the top seed and host for the conference tournament beginning Thursday, is even greener — and perhaps a little cocky, as well.
“Sometimes, it’s nice to have a little experience. Even though we were also very young a year ago, I’m still not sure that experience is overrated, because it does help, especially in certain situations. We definitely don’t have much of it,” said Cannata. “We have 15 freshmen and sophomores. We only have one junior and two seniors on the roster. Because of that, it took a while during the year to get everyone going on the same page. Last year was a roller coaster, and this year, it was even more so.”
UAlbany’s youth gave Cannata some stomach aches this season.
“We’re a lot more athletic this year, but that inexperience played a part in so many one-run games this year. It didn’t matter whether we were playing somebody good or somebody bad, we still seemed to get stuck in a one-run game,” she said. “It was definitely rough on me, trying to coach them in those situations.”
Fortunately for the Great Danes, talent carried the day. Sophomore pitcher Leah McIntosh of Whitby, Ontario, led a deep staff, while Shenendehowa graduate Michelle Connors, a sophomore second baseman, and junior utility player Meagan Butsch wielded big bats in a powerful lineup.
But it all starts on the mound.
“Leah definitely is having a great year, but she got tendonitis in her forearm and missed 10 days, right in the middle of our conference season,” Cannata said. “We were able to hold our own during that time with some nice pitching from Marissa Powell and Brittany Rose, but I’m glad Leah is back. She is extremely talented. She pitches for the Canadian junior national team and she throws very hard. Her best pitch is the rise ball, and she also has a curveball.”
“I’m not feeling that bad, right now, but I had to take a cortisone shot, and I didn’t really want to go that route,” said McIntosh, who has a 15-5 record with a 1.65 earned run average. She also has completed 19 of her 21 starts, and has posted seven shutouts.
“I love taking the ball. I know we have depth, and it’s awesome that our other pitchers came through when I was hurt, but we have a young pitching staff. I’m young, but I’ve been pitching for 15 years, and nothing really rattles me,” she said.
Powell, from Dallas, is 13-9 with a 2.99 ERA, while Rose, a Schenectady High School graduate, is 3-1 with a 3.35 ERA.
“Marissa is another hard thrower, but she uses a drop ball rather than a rise ball as her out pitch. Brittany Rose came in when we really needed her, especially when Leah was out. She throws hard, but she needs a little more control.”
Leadoff hitter Amber Maisonet, a senior outfielder from Newburgh, is a team leader in more ways than one. She sets the table for the power hitters and is batting .372, second in the America East Conference.
Connors, the team’s No. 3 hitter, and Butsch, the cleanup hitter, excel at driving in runs. Connors, who is batting .331, has a team-high eight home runs and 29 RBI, while Butsch, the conference’s top hitter at .381, has six homers and 28 RBI.
“If I don’t drive Amber in,
Meagan will,” said Connors. “We have a tremendous amount of talent and depth on this team. I’ll contribute in any way I can. I consider myself both a line-drive hitter and a power hitter, but we have a lot of good hitters all the way through our lineup.”
The pitching is sharp and the top half of the lineup provides plenty of punch, but the Great Danes don’t always field the ball the way Cannata would like.
“Let’s just say our defense plays like a bunch of freshmen,” she said. “But it’s been better lately. Since we’re more athletic, they can get to the ball quicker. Once they began to feel comfortable, they started to make the plays, but it took them a while.”
That inexperience that Cannata keeps coming back to is one of the reasons why she’s not as happy as one would think about hosting the America East Conference tournament.
“I think it puts more pressure on the kids,” said Cannata, who has guided the Great Danes to seven straight appearances in the conference tournament. “If we were more experienced, I would love playing at home, but now, the kids are going to class and taking finals. In fact, they’re right in the middle of finals, and they are all in the dorms. When you’re on the road, you are all
together in the hotel rooms, and you are less distracted.”
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