Cold, rainy weather will eventually give way to smooth, dry, green grass fields with the crack of aluminum bats and the whistling of pitches headed to home plate. Softball season is coming.
The Seawolves’ talented and experienced team is led by 2-time reigning America East Player of the Year, ace senior pitcher/first baseman Melissa Rahrich, who is one of six seniors who will see 2020 as their last season in Stony Brook. Those six players accounted for 229 hits out of Stony Brook’s 396 and 35 home runs out of 50 hit in the 2019 season. The pressure is on to win big with this group before Stony Brook loses a class that has provided so much of the Seawolves’ production throughout their careers, but they have the capability to do it.
The seniors are not the only group that will make an impact either. Talented sophomore pitcher Shelbi Denman is coming off a season where she had a 2.38 ERA that ranked third in the America East, right behind Rahrich at 2.09. No other team in the America East last season had two pitchers with an ERA under 3.50. Joining her is transfer junior pitcher Dawn Bodrug and sophomore infielder Lindsey Osmer. Bodrug is a junior college transfer who posted a 2.25 ERA and 14-7 record in her last season at Indian River State College. Osmer contributed in her freshman season with 23 hits at the plate and had a .933 fielding percentage.
Going back to last season, Stony Brook had a 32-19 record, 11-7 in the America East and went to the America East Championship with the help of this season’s seniors and 2019 seniors Irene Rivera and Katelyn Corr. Stony Brook would lose 4-0 against UMBC and end their season just short of their goal, as they have in the last few years in the playoffs.
This season, however, a trio of key players stand as Stony Brook’s best hope for a title: pitchers Rahrich, Denman and Bodrug.
“This is one of the best staffs we’ve had here at my time in Stony Brook,” head coach Megan Bryant said in an interview with The Statesman. “We like not only their skill set but their versatility and their ability to work together as a unit.”
Rahrich and Denman posting under 2.50 ERAs, alongside Bodrug emerging as a likely contributor in the third spot, makes this group dangerous for other teams in the America East. The Seawolves might finally have a championship-caliber pitching group after years of getting close.
The most dangerous of them all, Rahrich, stands as Stony Brook’s best hope for a title on a team full of seniors — and her teammates can attest to that fact.
“She’s just very fierce, very competitive,” senior outfielder Jourdin Hering said in an interview with The Statesman. “When she steps in there, she’s not afraid to take control and she does it really well. It’s intimidating for other teams.”
Rahrich was named to Softball America’s Top 100 college players for the second consecutive season but she still has some work to do as a Seawolf.
“There’s always weaknesses and spots to work on and I think that coach Higgs does a really good job of helping us with that and finding parts of the game to continue to work on,” Rahrich said. “There’s always going to be a spot that’s hard to hit, so just to continue working on that.”
The ace pitcher also understands what Stony Brook needs to be able to do in order to take the next step. A step the Seawolves have struggled to take in the last few seasons with close playoff finishes.
“I think for us, it’s just relaxing when we’re in that moment and knowing that our preparation got us to where we were and just relying on the fact that we know what we’re doing and not letting the pressure get to us,” Rahrich said.
The sentiment Rahrich shares may apply to close games and pressure situations the Seawolves will often face, but her coach offered a simpler approach for Stony Brook to go all the way this season.
“We win it with great pitching, great offensive approach, great defense and playing great together as a team,” Bryant said.
Bodrug believes that the Seawolves have clicked very well in her time already here, an optimistic sign for the upcoming season. If Stony Brook can build on that momentum, they may well be headed to the America East title game all over again.
“Instantly after our first practice, it was such a really good vibe,” Bodrug said. “We all clicked really well and I remember after our first fall game, I was just in shock of how well we all played together after just a few weeks of practicing.”
The Seawolves will have their first slate of games in Madeira Beach, Florida with their first matchup against Colgate on Feb. 21. The game against Colgate will be one of five in the Madeira Beach Tournament that will stretch from Feb. 21 to 23. Stony Brook will not play a home game until Mar. 21 against Fairfield, nearly a month into the season due to the cold weather at home that is not present in Florida where they play most of their first few games.
“Our non-conference season the first couple of weekends, there’s some tough competition but we like to see our team be challenged and it’s all about getting prepared for the America East schedule,” Bryant said of their non-conference schedule.
The Seawolves will also have to face UMass Lowell and Albany, both who finished in front of Stony Brook in conference play, even though the Seawolves had the best overall record last season. Currently, Stony Brook is slated to finish first in the America East with four out of seven first-place votes in the coach’s poll.
In the end, Rahrich has a singular goal that she has shared with her teammates since she came to Stony Brook: to end her career in a fashion that will suitably define it — “with a ring.”