By Mike Rudin — SPORTS EDITOR
The Hofstra Pride softball team is on the hunt for a CAA playoff spot as the team currently sits in fifth place within the CAA. The (21-17, 5-6 CAA) Pride just wrapped up a three-game series against the University of Delaware over the weekend. Prior to the series, I had the chance to speak to Pride head coach Larissa Anderson about the strengths and weaknesses of the team so far.
Mike Rudin: Despite a rocky start, as the Pride has been close to .500 a majority of the season, your team won four of the last five games [prior to the Delaware series]. What helped the team collect the recent winning stretch?
Larissa Anderson: It’s been our ability to compete every pitch for seven full innings. That’s something we’ve been trying to instill and we’ve talked about it, we work on it in practice and I really saw it for the first time on Sunday against Elon. That they truly competed every single pitch and the outing Jessica Peslak had, and the emotion the team had after that, I think they felt the gratification of putting in all the hard work that they had prior to and it really paid off.
MR: As you mentioned with Jessica Peslak doing well recently, she’s made her way to being the go-to starter now with a 15-7 record and 141 1/3 innings pitched. How much progress has she made throughout this season?
LA: Her growth is above and beyond where I expected [it] to be by this year because she is a first-year player. Even though she is a junior and she has observed this program for the last two years, she doesn’t have a lot of experience under her belt. So she’s still technically a freshman in terms of her playing experience, and she really has taken [it] upon herself to elevate her game. She expects tremendous outings every single time she throws and she’s getting better every single time … she gives us an opportunity to win every single game she’s going out and I can’t ask any more than that.
MR: Newcomers Courtney Scarpato and Madison Grimm have had some good pitching outings, but other times they’ve struggled. Is there anything in practice you want them to focus on more or sharpen their skills to have them be at their best?
LA: It’s [just] getting comfortable and getting into the game routine. Neither one of them has really ever relieved a game [in] their lives so that’s new in itself. They never ever had to actually think about pitching, the opposing team and think about the batters so it’s almost like a fish out of water that they’ve never been in these situations before. Their bullpens and their practices are outstanding, they’re phenomenal … the unfortunate thing is neither one of them pitched very much in the fall so the only experience they’re getting right now is Division l game experience, which is all result-orientated. So, it’s a little unfortunate for them, they’re learning on the fly, which they’re kind of behind the eight ball with that but both of them are just working so hard.
MR: Your shortstop Michaela Transue, is having a great year at the plate right now. What’s been the key to her success, having this breakout year?
LA: She is becoming a true student of the game in the batter’s box. She has worked with my assistant Elise [Fortier] every single day. She watches video, she talks about hitting [and] she understands her swing. She feels it, she’s a true student of the game right now [and] understanding exactly what she’s capable of doing and what she feels when her swing is breaking down and how she needs to correct it. She’s put in the work. She’s put in more work than anybody else on the team and it’s obviously paid off.
MR: Also, Kim Smith and Caryn Bailey are the veteran presence in the lineup, both also doing really well right now. How important is it to have that offensive core for your team?
LA: It’s huge and it’s the experience, there’s nothing that replaces experience. They’ve been there, they’ve done that [and] they’re not intimidated by an opponent, they’re not intimidated by a pitcher. They just have to let the game come to them and stay relaxed and do everything they’ve been doing in their entire career.
MR: On a side note, Transue and Smith have struggled defensively a little bit with compiling 31 errors altogether. Is there anything in practice you or any of the assistant coaches wanted to focus on to help with that?
LA: Now, the reason why is that you have pitchers that don’t throw as many strikeouts as pitchers in the past. So, more balls are being put in play because we don’t have that strikeout pitcher … [and] more balls are being hit harder so they’re putting a little more pressure on the left side of the infield. Especially with the tendencies Peslak and Scarpato throw to what side of the plate. So, more balls are being hit hard in play and at the same time we expect them to make those plays. So, it’s getting them to play at a faster pace … with the ball being put over the heart of the plate a little bit more, it puts a lot more pressure on the defense that they haven’t been used to.
MR: Between Nikki Michalowski and Brittany Allocca, both in new positions – Allocca at catcher and Michalowski at first – how well have they adapted so far this season?
LA: Michalowski has wowed me from day one. She’s one of those that her will completely exceeds her skills. She’s so driven and so determined … to have a breakout year and to earn a starting position that she has just impressed me every single day. Brittany Allocca is a born catcher and she is so natural back there. The adjustment we had to make with her is she just had to speed up to the play of our game. She has such an unbelievable arm that throughout her entire life she just relied on her arm strength. She could’ve looked at a runner, probably winked twice and then throw out a kid at second base because her arm was that good. She can’t do that at this level so she just had to get a little bit quicker on her transfer, which she has done.
MR: Also, you have to be happy with the batting well, both batting over .310 at the plate. What’s really worked for them?
LA: It’s the time they’ve been putting in and understanding and not trying to do too much. Both of them hit on both sides of the plate very well. They have home run potential so you can’t make mistakes to athletes like that and it takes the pressure off of players like Bailey, Transue and Smith when you know you have younger players that are in the lineup and getting the job done. It doesn’t put as much pressure on those older athletes.
MR: Now with your team fifth in the CAA standings, what do you look to do to help pick up the slack a little bit and create a winning recipe?
LA: We got to start winning some series. [After] losing the series to Towson and then only getting two games in against UNC Wilmington, we’ve put ourselves in a tough hole. We got to start winning some series here to have a shot to make the playoffs and the team knows. Their backs are up against the wall and they have to play with a desperation because Hofstra has never not made the playoffs. So we have to make sure that we take care of what we’re able to do and we can’t be watching the scoreboard and hoping other teams lose.