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Senior shortstop Lexie Shue prepares for a swing during a 2016 game. Shue is a co-captain for Stony Brook Softball this season. ARACELY JIMENEZ/STATESMAN FILE

The Stony Brook softball team will be playing with heavy hearts in 2017 as the team dedicates the season to former infielder Danni Kemp, who is undergoing treatment for an inoperable brain tumor.

“We’re having to manage a situation with a very sick teammate, and that’s a very long road for everybody,” head coach Megan Bryant said. “Our goal is to honor her and dedicate our season to her. It’s a difficult road for everybody, especially for Danni, her family and those closest to her.”

Before the softball season began, the entire Stony Brook athletics department took several steps to honor Kemp. During a Feb. 12 Stony Brook Men’s Basketball home game, Seawolves from each Division I sport at the university showed support by sporting t-shirts that had the hashtag #DK23 on them.

While Bryant remains determined to help the Kemp family as much as she can, the focus remains on winning the America East title for the third time (2008 and 2013 were the two previous tournament championships).

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“The overall expectations for our team remain the same, and that’s to be successful and challenge for the America East championship,” Bryant said. “We did graduate quite a few seniors. While we take a lot of pride in our defensive ability, it’s going to be key for our pitching staff to step up.”

The Seawolves’ 2017 pitching staff will play a vital role as the team attempts to come back from finishing third in the standings last year. Bryant expects junior Maddy Neales to step up and lead the squad this season along with sophomore Lindsey Hughes and senior Alex Petrolia.

In addition, Stony Brook now has two freshman pitchers, Melissa Rahrich and Taylor Pechin.

Neales threw 110 innings last season as the team’s No. 2 pitcher. She struck out batters at a high rate — about one per inning — but struggled with control at times, walking 84 hitters and posting an earned run average of 4.72.

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But this season, Neales will see increased work, replacing Jane Sallen, who led the conference in wins (16), saves (5) and appearances (39) in 2016, as the team’s top arm.

Senior infielder Lexie Shue and junior infielder Chelsea Evans were named captains for the new season, and the pressure is on as they lead the Seawolves in an emotional season.

“It’s a big responsibility and it’s a very big privilege,” Shue said. “It’s definitely an extra responsibility that I haven’t had over the past three years. It’s a new page that I need to get used to.”

Shue batted .281 last season, while Evans hit .291. Three of Stony Brook’s top four batters in average last season have graduated from the team.

The Seawolves hit the field for their first game on Feb. 24 against the Detroit Titans in the EMU Madeira Beach Invitational in Florida.

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