Softball team swings into spring

­­— Senior Carolyn Chewning previews upcoming games, team competes next weekend

Senior pitcher Caralyn Chewning swings at the ball during the 2012-13 season. File photo.

In just a few weeks, the UND softball team will begin spring season play.

The team will play five games in three days during its first tournament of the spring season at the Florida Gulf Coast Tournament beginning Feb. 21.

The women will have two similar weekends following that to loosen up before Big Sky conference play begins.

“I think we’re definitely ready,” senior pitcher Caralyn Chewning said. “We’re excited to get out. We get to go to Florida for our first tournament, so we get some sunshine, get to be out on the dirt, so it’ll be really nice.”

UND went 5-3 in the fall season — the non-championship segment of the year — and the team has been working on improvement all winter.

“Yeah, we definitely have (improved),” Chewning said. “Over the winter, we’ve got to work on more mechanics, stuff for hitting, pitching and fielding. We got a lot more individual time with the coaches, so that’s helped a lot. I think our hitting has come a long a lot, too, so I think we’ll be a force to reckon with when we’re on offense.”

Experienced roster

The team has six seniors to lead the way this year, with D Jantzer and Amanda Johnson returning to the outfield at left and right field, respectively, while Toni Schutte will see time at second base.

Elizabeth Cudney will play her share as catcher, while Chewning will return as starting pitcher and one of the top hitters. Courtney Gonzales will step in as pinch hitter when needed.

“Gonzales will end up being a solid pinch hitter and help us in situations where we need to score,” UND coach Eric Oakley said. “When we’ll need someone to come in and put the ball into play, she’ll be able to do that for us.”

The younger players fill out the roster — some of them returning and some fresh out of high school. Returning sophomores Nicole Babrowski and Emily Bell will play center field and first base, respectively, while Kent State transfer Kim Granata will step in as catcher.

Two freshmen will see time as starters, Jackie Lilek at third and Autumn Cervantez at shortstop, completing the lineup for North Dakota.

“We have six new freshman … and a sophomore transfer who is one of our starting catchers,” Chewning said. “We’ve definitely, as a team, gotten closer over the winter and we’re going to be spending a lot of time together over the season as well. I think we all mesh together well. I think it’ll go great.”

Scoring runs

Oakley is optimistic about UND’s ability to swing at bat, but has reservations.

“I’m interested in seeing how the hitters do,” Oakley said. “They look good in the cages right now, but you really can’t be absolutely sure until they face some live pitches.”

Last season, Jantzer hit .308 to lead the team, as she had 33 hits and 19 RBI. Chewning was third overall with 27 hits and 17 RBI, but the pitcher also faced some injuries.

“I wasn’t on my full health last year and able to pitch as much as I wanted to,” Chewning said. “So I think this year, I just want to stay healthy and be able to just help my team out as much as I can in the circle, and just try to keep the offense of other teams to a minimum.”

The 2014 Big Sky softball preseason coaches’ poll Jan. 15 showed last season co-regular season champion Idaho State as the favorite. UND was lower — seated in seventh — but remains poised and ready to play.

North Dakota will take the field for its first game of 2014 against Arkansas on Feb. 21 at 2:45 p.m. The tournament is in Fort Myers, Fla.

“We’re really excited,” Chewning said. “We have a countdown of our games … we’re ready to go.”

Marie Monson is the multimedia editor of The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected].