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Youthful Hofstra swings for CAA tourney

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Hofstra’s softball team is looking to build off a rebuilding season while sporting one of the youngest rosters in the nation for a second straight spring.

The Pride went 20-27 last year after welcoming 12 newcomers and returning just two starters from the 2018 team that captured a Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) title and reached the NCAA Tournament. With some experience now under their belt, the 2020 Hofstra team that is still comprised of mostly underclassmen is looking to take another step after just missing out on the CAA Tournament a season ago.

Hofstra was picked to finish sixth in the CAA preseason poll, which would leave it once again just outside qualifying for the five-team postseason tournament where the winner receives an automatic NCAA bid. The Pride began the season playing a grueling non-conference schedule and entered the week at 3-14.

“We’re still a very young team,” said second-year head coach Jay Miller, whose roster features 16 freshmen and sophomores. “We don’t pay a lot of attention to preseason rankings and we’re just looking to play ball.”

Miller, who racked up more than 1,000 career wins during previous head coaching stops at Missouri and Mississippi State, saw strides last year amid a season of growing pains that finished 7-13 in the CAA. Reigning CAA Co-Rookie of the Year winner Meghan Giordano soared as a freshman hitting .378 with 10 home runs and despite a slower start to her sophomore campaign, Miller sees major potential in the Westchester County native.

“She can change the course of a game with one swing,” said Miller of Giordano, who hit a grand slam in Hofstra’s come-from-behind 10-7 win against Buffalo on March 7 at the George Mason Invitational.

Kasey Collins and Angelina Ioppolo also produced out of the gate as freshman and are looking to up their game to another level as sophomores. Collins hit .369 during her rookie campaign and was named to the All-CAA Second Team as well as the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) All-Northeast Region Third Team. Ioppolo earned NFCA All-Region third team honors after hitting .282 with 16 RBIs.

Senior Alexis Goeke, who is one of only two remaining players from the 2018 CAA title team, displayed power at the plate as a junior with four home runs to earn All-CAA First Team accolades as a designated player. Fellow senior Kristin Hallam, who was the 2019 CAA Defensive Player at shortstop, is red-shirting this season after undergoing shoulder surgery.

In the circle, Hofstra returns both starting pitchers in sophomores Mackenzie Suto and Madison Burns, who recorded 13 wins as a freshman and was named to the CAA All-Rookie Team. Miller also added two freshman hurlers in California native Nikki Mullin and Natalie Grubczak from suburban Chicago.

“We have four pitchers that can all throw very well,” Miller said. “We can mix and match.”

Freshman catcher Lindsay Hay is leading the pitching staff from behind the plate while developing into one of the Pride’s leading hitters with one home run and three doubles through 17 games. Utility player Jordan Pietrzykoski is also quickly developing as a freshman with a team-leading .271 batting average and one home run.

Hofstra’s next home game is scheduled against Seton Hall on March 24 at 4 p.m. The non-conference schedule also features games against local rivals Stony Brook on April 22 at 6 p.m. and Long Island University on April 24 at 4 pm.

 The Pride opens CAA play and its quest for a return to postseason play with a three-game series against Drexel at Bill Edwards Stadium starting with a Saturday doubleheader on March 28 at noon. The Pride will also host three-game sets against CAA foes UNC-Wilmington on April 10-11 and College of Charleston on May 1-2.  The challenging league road slate is highlighted by a visit to defending conference champion James Madison on April 18-19.

“If you want to win a conference championship you have to qualify first so that is the first step,” he said. “Every weekend will be a battle.”