Sophomore pitcher Melissa Rahrich pitches against Hartford in April 2017. Rahrich will look to improve her pitching record after going 12-12 last season. MARIE MATSUNAGA/STATESMAN FILE

The Stony Brook softball team will look to rebound following an emotionally dismaying 2017 season.

“Last season, we did not do as well as we wanted to,” sophomore pitcher Melissa Rahrich said. “I think we had extraordinary circumstances throughout the season that happened, but I think this season will be a lot better and we will come back a lot stronger.”

The team suffered an extraordinary loss in the passing of sophomore second baseman Danielle Kemp in early March. Kemp passed away due to a rare form of brain cancer that was discovered after testing to see if she had a concussion following a pitch that hit her head. The Seawolves honored her legacy by holding fundraisers in her name, using the hashtag DK23 (her initials and number) on social media and wearing her name on their jersey sleeves.

“Well, last season was tough on us for a lot of reasons,” head coach Megan T. Bryant said. “We are kind of moving past that this year. It is a new group this year, a new excitement and our goal for this year, like every year, is to compete for the America East title.”

The Seawolves were often in the middle of the pack in the America East statistically on offense last season, finishing fourth in slugging (.405 percent), hits (346) and batting average (.281). The team will look to sophomore outfielder Jourdin Hering and junior catcher Irene Rivera to produce in the batter’s box again.

“I like where we are at offensively now,” Bryant said. “We are ‘swinging a bigger bat now,’ if you will. We are hitting more balls and becoming more aggressive hitters.”

One of the team’s biggest flaws was the number of runs allowed per game. The Seawolves were seventh in the conference in runs allowed, finishing last season with a 4.57 ERA. In response to this, the team has hired pitching specialist Christina Berardi as an assistant coach to work with Rahrich and the rest of the pitching staff.

“We have two new assistant coaches and I would say we love them both,” Rahrich said. “They are great and Coach B especially, since she is the pitching coach and I love working with her. I think Coach Bryant helps in all areas too. She helps us see the field and I think they are all working to make this our best season.”

Stony Brook is predicted to finish fourth in a Preseason Coaches’ Poll by the America East Conference. However, Rivera ensures that this is being used as fuel to light a fire under the team for the upcoming season.

“It doesn’t matter what the preseason poll says,” Rivera said. “What matters is what we want in the end result and that is the America East Championship so we’re going to prove people wrong.”

The Seawolves will start their season on the Gulf Coast for the FGCU Invitational in Fort Myers, Florida. The team will then travel nearly 3,000 miles the following week to participate in the UC Riverside Highlander Classic in Riverside, California. For several of the players, the trip to California is about more than playing in an invitational – it’s about playing in front of their family.

“Florida is always a trip for us, so it is nice to get out of this cold weather to go get some sun and actually getting on the dirt field,” Rivera said. “ And going back to California is just so exciting, I have so much family there and they are all so excited. They all have been telling me they can’t wait to see me play because they don’t really get to see me that much. I love the California trips.”

Stony Brook Softball returns to action on Friday, Feb. 23 when the team faces Wright State in the FGCU Softball Complex in Fort Myers, Florida at 2:30 p.m.

Player to Watch:

The bar of success has been set high for Stony Brook sophomore pitcher and first baseman Melissa Rahrich following a season of offensive and defensive dominance.

“Mel is certainly a valuable player for us,” head coach Megan T. Bryant said. “For what she does in the circle, what she does on the plate and what she does for space, she really is one of our top players.”

Rahrich lit up the circle, leading the Seawolves with 157.1 innings pitched to finish with a 12-12 record and a 3.57 ERA last season. She completed 12 games in the circle, eight coming from conference action and ended the season one strikeout shy of 100. The sophomore had a good eye in the batter’s box, leading the Seawolves with a .593 slugging percentage. She led the team in home runs with fellow sophomore Jourdin Hering and produced 32 runs from 49 hits.

Rahrich’s success has led to her receiving several awards including being selected to the America East First Team in her rookie season and being named Player of the Week three times. Melissa has continued to improve both ends of her game over the offseason despite her early success.

“Pitching-wise, Coach B has helped me be more confident by working on speed and spots and all that stuff,” Rahrich said. “First base wise, I would say I’m more agile and able to move to the ball better.”