Pat Mineo will take as many softball players from Section II as he can get.
The Utica College head coach had seven former Section II athletes on his 15-player roster this season, as the Pioneers won the Empire 8 title and won the first NCAA game in program history.
“There’s a lot of talent there,” said Mineo, who finished his ninth year as the Pioneers coach this spring. “It’s been a good area for us, and we’ve got a lot of good word-of-mouth recruiting.”
Among his top players this year was sophomore shortstop Alysa Russell of Mechanicville, who followed up her 2013 conference Rookie of the Year season by earning a spot on the third team of the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Northeast All-Region team.
“She’s been what we’ve been looking for, a strong-armed shortstop,” said Mineo. “Last year, we had a very strong offensive team. Everyone from No. 1 through 9 in the order could hit. We put Alysa in the six hole, which I consider a big RBI spot. and she had a great year.
“This year, we needed a No. 3 hitter, and we put here there because we knew she could hit, she could hit for power, she could run, she can bunt, she can drive in runs. Next year, she could be our leadoff hitter.”
Russell started all 47 of Utica’s games as a freshman, hitting .424 with six home runs and 35 RBI.
This season, she was second to senior Meghan Matan, a Shaker High School graduate, with a .404 batting average.She led the team with 27 RBI, and her five home runs tied her for the team lead. She also was successful in all six of her stolen base attempts.
Matan turned in a solid senior year, hitting .481 with other team bests in hits (51), doubles (17), total bases (84), slugging percentage (.792) and on-base percentage (.491).
“She had a very good career for us,” Mineo said.
Sophomores Erica Colucci of Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, Cassie Smith (Bethlehem) and Kassidy Ogren (Colonie) also were big contributors to the team’s success this season, as was junior Courtney Fitzgerald (Colonie).
“Erica threw a no-hitter against Alfred in the game that got us into the Empire 8 tournament,” said Mineo. “She did an outstanding job for us, going 10-3.”
Ogren split time at catcher, and hit .347 with 10 doubles and 22 RBI.
“Kassidy had a bad shoulder all season,” said Mineo. “She had a hard time throwing to second base, but we disguised it. She did an outstanding job with the bat. She drove in some big runs.”
Smith batted .356 and played a strong outfield.
“We needed a No. 6 hitter to replace Russell, and Cassie filled that spot nicely,” Mineo said. “And she’s a good outfielder. She gets a great jump on the ball.”
Fitzgerald hit .337, with four home runs and 24 homers. She will go into her junior year one home run shy of tying the school record.
The seventh local on the team, junior Alex Deyo (Colonie), was injured in preseason and got only four at-bats.
“In our spring trip to Florida, she ran down a foul ball and ran into the fence and tore a ligament in the thumb on her glove hand,” Mineo said. “She only got four at-bats, but she came to every practice. She was a great teammate.”