Softball eyes playoff berth


Utica Women’s softball team, who look to secure an Empire 8 playoff spot.

Andres Jaime-Mendez, Contributing Writer

The Utica University Pioneers softball team has had a good season up to this point as echoed by players, sitting at 5th place in the Empire 8 and hanging on to the last playoff spot for the time being while sporting a 17-14 record. 

In conference play, the Pioneers are 6-6 to this point, as the team heads into the last week of the regular season, with a doubleheader series against local foe Hamilton College and then last-place Houghton College, before rounding out the schedule against the E8 leading Saxons of Alfred University. 

The team will be on the road against Hamilton College and Houghton College, before having their last home series of the year versus Alfred at Greenman Field, across the street from the Utica University campus. 

Softball began their year in Myrtle Beach playing in the Fastpitch Dreams Spring Classic and winning seven straight games to start the season. Utica dropped the last two of the Classic but had nonetheless gotten off to a hot start. 

Utica’s weather was not kind in late March and early April, as the Pioneers saw five out of their first ten games called or postponed to begin the season in the Empire State. 

Early non-conference play saw Utica drop three out of four and be swept by crosstown rival SUNY Polytechnic Institute. Utica then swept their doubleheader versus Keuka College and split another twin billing with Elmira College. Another series win against Skidmore College was the last time the Pioneers would see back-to-back wins for weeks. 

In a stretch from April 12 -19, Utica Softball only won one out of eight games going into a crucial conference doubleheader with playoff implications on the line. 

Four straight losses would put softball in a difficult position going into the Senior Day series against Medaille University but in the end, Utica would take both games of the doubleheader on Saturday, April 22. 

Utica has thrown few pitchers out there this season, with Jordyn Conte and Kylie Murray notching 80% of the team’s innings, and Maggie Habernig, Kelly Thornton, and Lucia Gargiulo taking up the remaining 20% of time on the mound. 

On the offensive side, shortstop Emily Joss ranked top 3 in batting average, slugging, and on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS), while leading the conference in runs scored, on-base percentage (OBP), and doubles. She is also fourth in the Empire 8 in hits. 

Backing up Joss were sophomore Lauren Paul and freshman Maddie Zulager, who were both fundamental pieces to the Pioneers’ success this season.

Paul is a sophomore second baseman from Guilderland hitting third in the lineup, while Zulager is a freshman right fielder from Moorpark, CA, hitting in the five-hole in her first season at Utica. 

Paul currently ranks first on the team in home runs with five and 5th in the conference in HR and RBIs (runs batted in). She is also top-ten in the Empire 8 for slugging, OPS, hits, and doubles. In the field, Paul has 51 putouts so far, with a 95.9% fielding percentage at second base. 

Paul attributed part of the team’s success to the culture that has been built by the coaching staff.

“Coach Olsen and Coach Megan have focused on building a strong culture and we are all on board,” Paul said.

Zulager also ranked top ten in the conference in batting average, slugging, OPS, hits, and doubles, and sitting just one spot behind the top ten in HR and RBIs. Defensively, Zulager has played stellar defense in right field, with 5 outfield assists, 41 putouts, and a 97.9% fielding percentage. 

She describes the team as “tough and talented” and with a playoff berth in sight Zulager also acknowledged the difficulty of the remaining schedule. 

“We know this last week is going to be tough as we play 6 games,” Zulager said. “With some tough E8 games coming our way, it will be fun to see what we do with the added pressure!”

With the final play dates and final Empire 8 series of the regular season coming up, both Paul and Zulager spoke about the confidence they have in the team and each other and “can’t wait to see where they go as a team.”