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March 11, 2016

Debuting Red Dragons loving life

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

The SUNY Cortland softball team is not used to this.
The first game the Red Dragons play during their annual spring break trip to Florida is usually also the first time the team gets on a full diamond since starting pre-season practice. Lingering winter weather usually confines sessions to inside Lusk Field House, or occasionally finding some artificial green space outdoors on the school’s Stadium Complex turf.
So when Coach Julie Lenhart’s club plays a pair of contests on Sunday in the Rebel Spring Games, the Red Dragons will savor the luxury of having already conducted several practices — and even an inter-squad scrimmage — on their home field prior to flying down to the Sunshine State.
“We’ve never been outside before Florida. Never. And this is my 22nd year,” said the successful Lenhart, who has a 701-268-2 record at Cortland and an overall mark of 821-345-2 in the coaching ranks.
“Maybe we’ve been out on turf, but we’ve never been on our field,” she added, recalling last March when three feet of snow still blanketed Dragon Field. “We’re actually loving life right now.”
And what’s not to love about these Red Dragons, the defending SUNY Athletic Conference champions whose 36-13 season ended last spring while hosting an NCAA Division III regional gathering. There will be plenty of familiar familiar faces on hand when Cortland takes on Utica College and Wheaton out of Massachusetts in a pair of Sunday contests in Kissimmee, Florida.
“The expectations are high. We’ve got everyone back,” admits Lenhart, whose team will play 10 times from March 13-18 in the Rebel Spring Games. “The seniors who played last year contributed a great deal, but we have our starting infield and outfield back. It’s a comfortable feeling.”
Departed catcher Devynn Wilder and the .347 bat of Courtney Kadish will have to be replaced, but Cortland has the talent to do just that.
EVERYTHING BEGINS with pitching, where juniors Jamie Lachall and Alexandrea Flint return. Lachall was 15-4 with a 1.89 earned run average last season, while Flint finished 6-4 with a 2.19 ERA.
Junior Abigail LeBarron and hard-throwing freshman Sam Van Dorn provide depth in the pitching circle.
“We’ll be fine as long as our pitchers keep getting better and mix their speeds and stay within their strengths,” said Lenhart. “We’re not going to have super strikeout totals, but our defense is pretty solid.”
Shortstop Erin Wolstenholme heads up the defense, and has also benefited from a full pre-season as a softball player. The current team captain was usually preoccupied with basketball before joining her softball teammates, but her eligibility for hoops ran out. Because of an arm injury that sidelined her as a freshman, the graduate student from Oneonta still had a season of softball available.
Senior captain Carrie Stoddard and junior .300 hitter Mikayla Shade are back as first basemen in the Cortland infield, where junior third baseman Kaleigh Churchill (.347) and junior second baseman Rosie Phillips (.311) are also solid returning talents. Shade slugged six home runs last year.
Sophomore infielder Andea Schoonmaker is a speedy .317 contact hitter who had some post-season moments for the Red Dragons. Sophomore utility player Skyler Hoyt, a transfer from St. Peter’s in New Jersey after excelling at Union-Endicott High School, also has offensive potential.
Behind the plate, sophomore Jamie Corradina and freshman Sabrina Kraska are currently contending for the starter’s job, sophomore Stephanie Tirone and freshman Hannah Feldman also looking to get playing time.
THERE WILL BE FEW concerns about the Cortland outfield. Senior team captains Jamie Bucci and Diane Cork head up a productive trio of starters, along with junior Niki Barbato.
Bucci led the Red Dragons last season hitting .381, and was also tops with 19 stolen bases. Barbato batted .347 and Cork .344, both sharing team-high honors with seven home runs.
Sophomore outfielder Alissa De Padua, and junior utility player Chelsea Palma provide depth along with a batch of rookies including Shannon Damon, first baseman Jordyn Steele and third baseman Jessica Marsh.
“I’ve always said our strength is our depth, and we’re deep in every position,” said Lenhart.
This coming week will be a true test with formidable foes like Rowan and Ramapo on the slate, with Cortland also spending an off-day taking in a Tennessee at Florida Division I softball clash. Oneonta and Geneseo will provide stiff competition for conference laurels, while teams like St. John Fisher, Ithaca and The College of New Jersey will all be challenging.
“When you get down to Florida it’s not always what the other team is doing, it’s what you’re doing,” said Lenhart of her goals going into the Rebel Spring Games. “We just want to get better every single day.”

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