SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Getting set for the first year in the West Coast Conference, Santa Clara softball is looking forward to a season in which it returns all but five players. Santa Clara won eight games last season, including five in the Pacific Coast Softball Conference. Santa Clara welcomes five freshmen to the team in 2014, including four from the Bay Area.
"Overall we're looking good for the start of the season," said Santa Clara head coach Lisa Mize. "We are doing a lot of stuff pretty well on the field this year. Fitness wise we're trying to push the limits a little bit more than in the past and everyone seems to be doing their job. Things are falling into place with both the softball and the fitness."
Santa Clara will play defending national champion Oklahoma Feb. 8 in Fullerton. The Broncos will also face off with local rivals Cal (April 5) and Stanford (April 22) on the road. Both Pac-12 teams finished in the top-25 last season (No. 21 Stanford and No. 24 Cal). The season-opener comes vs. Kentucky who finished 2013 No. 12 in the country.
Playing so many high-caliber teams means the Broncos will need to rely on veterans to lead the roster. Fortunately for Santa Clara, it welcomes back 14 players from last year's team.
"Having all those returners brings us experience in various ways," said Mize. "I think that they have some goals that they want to achieve this season which sets the tone and raises the bar a little bit higher so they can accomplish those goals. They help push and guide the freshmen and I think there is some great leadership out there, especially with Stephanie Fisher."
Santa Clara also welcomes five freshmen to the Mission campus for the 2014 season. With such a large group of returners, however, Mize doesn't have to throw the rookies into the fire right away and can allow them to adjust to Division I life.
"Realistically we want the freshmen to learn the speed of the game at this level because that is probably the biggest difference," said Mize. "Throwing in school with long practice hours and training hours while learning to be a student athlete can be difficult. We hope to see all of them get playing time out on the field to learn the speed of Division I softball."
The highlight of the 2013 season was a double-header sweep of LMU at the new softball stadium on March 30. Santa Clara took the first game 3-2 before winning 4-3 in eight innings in the finale. Chiara Biagini had a walk-off single in the second game for the dramatic victory.
"The stadium is a tremendous help to us," said Mize. "I think being able to have the student body come support us and being able to not have to travel off campus to play is a huge deal for us. There is that sense of pride being able to play on our home field. I think we showed that last year and it is a tradition that will continue."
As a team Santa Clara hit nine home runs, four triples, and 39 doubles while scoring 77 runs with 69 RBI. Santa Clara pitchers had two shutouts and threw a total of 336.1 innings while stringing out 141 batters.
The Broncos return the vast majority of their roster from 2013. Stephanie Fisher, a preseason All-WCC selection, led the team in most offensive categories, including with a .320 batting average while starting all 54 games. Fisher had 12 doubles, two triples, three home runs, 15 RBI and 17 runs scored. She also went 3-3 in stolen bases while posting a .404 on-base percentage and a .487 slugging percentage. Rochelle Rivera played in all 54 games last season and made 53 starts while hitting .233 with one double, one tripe, six RBI, and eight runs scored. Kelly Scribner, also a preseason All-WCC selection, started 53 games and played in 54 as well while hitting .219 with five doubles, six RBO and six runs scored. Cassandra Padilla played 28 games in 2013 and hit .276 with a .461 slugging percentage. Padilla hit three home runs and five doubles to go with 10 runs scored and eight RBI.
"Stephanie did an awesome job last year," said Mize. "She had a great first half of the season last year. I think she wants to take that to the next level and keep that pace the whole year. She has come back even stronger physically and mentally and is really focused out there. That really sends a message out to all the younger players on the team as well as all the other seniors. I just think she is a great leader and a great face for Santa Clara Softball."
On the mound Santa Clara returns just two pitchers from last season in Briana Rios and Jessica Turner. Rios was 1-9 with a 4.86 ERA in 21 games, including 10 starts. She tossed three complete games while throwing 67.2 innings and striking out 18. Turner was 1-8 with a 6.66 ERA in 22 games and nine starts. She threw 62.0 including one complete game while striking out 18.
"We have four pitchers with Jessica being our hardest thrower," said Mize. "When Jessica is dialed in we expect big things from her. We expect big things from everyone as far as the pitching rotation goes. We need them to keep us in the ballgame and throw strikes."