April 5, 2007

Bronco Softball Begins Conference Play Friday at St. Mary's

April 5, 2007

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - After 39 games, seven wins, six tournaments, five home series, and a partridge and a pear tree, the Broncos will begin Pacific Coast Softball Conference Play Friday, April 6 against St. Mary's in Moraga, Calif. The Broncos have had a tough season thus far in 2007, going 7-32 in non-conference play.

"It's going to be a good fresh start for us and we're excited," said head coach Steve Rianda.

Despite the Broncos' youth and their performance as a team in 2007, they couldn't have asked for more from veterans like senior Angela Kabanuck, who leads the team in most offensive categories, including batting average (.405), hits (53), home runs (8) and RBIs (16), among others.

"Angie [Kabanuck] is definitely an all around superstar," said Rianda. "Without her in the lineup, opponents would have less to worry about. I think that a bunch of others on the team are starting to come out of their slumps. But she (Kabanuck) is definitely a huge contributor out there."

"I'm really excited for my last 20 games," Kabanuck said of her final season. "I've kept my focus these last 40 or so games, and hopefully success becomes contagious. We're pretty confident going into this weekend. I think we need to be a little more consistent offensively and put together four good games."

The Broncos have seen strong performances from their pitching staff in 2007, which have kept them alive in many games this year. At times, their efforts have been overshadowed by inconsistency and errors on defense. That being the case, as a team the Broncos still maintain just a 5.14 ERA, while opponents average 3.01. In the circle, the Broncos are led by juniors Jerrica Castagno and Jackie Morales. Castagno boasts a team-best 4.22 ERA and .271 opponents batting average, while Morales leads in wins (4), starts (15) and complete games (9).

"I'm expecting great things from them - the girls are all well rested," Rianda said. "Lauren [Passafuime] and Kaitlyn [Rauschnot] pitched very well against Hawaii. Jerrica [Castagno] is rested and Jackie [Morales] has been great out there. I expect them to be up and throw the ball well and give us an opportunity to win."

Morales was speechless when reminded that she leads her team in wins this season.

"That's cool...," Morales joked. "I should have a lot more (wins), and our team should have a lot more, but we're going to turn things around. I feel a lot more confident pitching out there than I did last year. I feel like I've been consistent every time out and I think I've done a good job helping our team stay in games."

But for the second straight season the Broncos have been forced to battle injury. Freshman DH Jennifer Clarke hasn't played since sustaining an injury at the Stanford Invitational in February, and firstbaseman Noelani Hoopii has been out for the past month. This past week, junior Meghan Chavez was forced to leave a game against Hawaii, but the team has welcomed the return of freshman Breann Netto.

"We started out the year with four catchers, two shortstops and three firstbasemen. Now we are down to our fourth firstbaseman, third secondbaseman and our catcher is now our shortstop," Rianda exclaimed. "We've definitely had to move players around, but that's part of the game. Jackie Morales is one of our true utility players, and Jerrica [Castagno] is a very strong athlete and not just a strong pitcher. It's good that we have a group of athletic individuals."

"It's been fun having to play a bunch of positions," said Morales. "I do like that I can play so many places and that coach trusts me enough to put me out there."

Looking ahead to this weekend's series, the St. Mary's Gaels bring a 15-24 record into conference play. Both teams have endured struggles against powerhouses like California, Fresno State and Cal Poly. As a team, the Gaels are batting a modest .276 (SCU .234) while their pitching staff carries a 4.65 ERA (SCU 5.14). If stats are any indication, this weekend's series should be very tightly matched.

"St. Mary's has improved a lot over the past year and they are playing really well," said Rianda. "They beat UOP, Oregon, and played well against Hawaii. But all the PCSC teams are strong opponents. We're going to have to go in there and take these games away from them."

Action begins Friday, April 6 at 12:00 noon from Cottrell Field in Moraga, Calif., with games also scheduled for 2:00 p.m., and then on Saturday, April 7 at 12:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.