Coming off a 38-19 (17-7 Mountain West) record in 2015, San Jose State Spartans softball returns to action on Thursday in the three-day, six-game Kajikawa Classic hosted by Arizona State University.
Speaking exclusively with Inside the Spartans, tenth-year head coach Peter Turner expressed optimism with what he sees with his team so far.
“The quality of athletes that we’re getting now is on a grander level than it used to be,” said Turner, reflecting on his decade-long career at San Jose State.
Turner also explained that he used the October exhibition games to evaluate his freshman and sophomore players and teach them his style of play.
“Our system is a little bit unique...it’s complicated [with] our defensive sets. We don’t talk about it. We basically use [a] number system to know what we’re in and what we do...I thought they played extremely well,” remarked Turner.
The most visible change in this year’s roster is in the pitching rotation, following the graduations of Madison Fish and Allison Lang, who combined for 29 wins as starters. Of the five pitchers in rotation, only two—juniors Katelyn Linford and Colette Riggs—return with experience from last season. In contrast, all five pitchers who played in 2015 had experience in 2014.
Linford went 7-4 as starter in 2015 with a 6.06 ERA. Riggs had a 9.00 ERA in three relief appearances. Two freshmen who have represented national teams, Chantelle Ladner from Australia and Ashley Penney from Canada, add more depth to the pitching lineup. Another junior pitcher, Emily Rogers, sat out the entire 2015 season after transferring from St. Joseph’s, where she had a 2-3 record and 3.48 ERA in her rookie season. Turner said that Rogers will sit out the Kajikawa Classic due to injury and expects Rogers to be ready for the following week’s tournament, the DiMarini Desert Classic hosted by UNLV.
Turner holds high expectations for Ladner and acknowledges she will encounter some shortcomings.
“I anticipate a roller coaster ride early. There’s more maturity if you play international ball...you’re playing the best athletes. [Ladner] understands that. She’s been throwing very well. She has some growing to do, as all freshmen do. Sometimes, they get beat up, but that’s part of the process.”
Sophomore Emma Entzminger, who started at catcher last year and represented Canada in last summer’s Pan Am Games, will primarily play at utility player. Freshman Alexandra Luna will start at catcher, while Entzminger is now a backup in that position.
“[Entzminger] doesn’t possess the arm strength to catch like Luna does. Luna can throw people out from under her knees.”
Despite the losses of Michelle Cox, Sharon-Renae Estrada, and Nicole Schultz, all of whom had batting averages of .340 or higher, Turner still expects the team batting average to be among the best in Division I; last year’s team had the seventh highest batting average. Coming off a season with batting averages over .430 and over 110 combined RBI’s, Jessie Hufstetler and Jessica Madrid return for their final seasons.
Three opponents in this year’s Kajikawa Classic made last year’s NCAA tournament: Arizona State, BYU, and Tennessee. The DiMarini Desert Classic includes NCAA tournament qualifier Utah and a top-100 RPI team in Oregon State. Among opponents in the Mary Nutter College Classic in Cathedral City and Judi Garman Classic hosted by Cal State Fullerton are five more that made last year’s NCAA tournament: Washington, Georgia, Missouri, Baylor, and Northwestern.
“We did it on purpose, and we think it’s going to make us stronger,” commented Turner about the strong schedule. “I’m a firm believer that you play to the level of your competition...if we win half of those games, that will put us in the top 15 [or] top 20 in the nation...That will give us a signature win opportunity that we didn’t capitalize on last year.”
Turner also provided an update about the proposed new softball field. With $175,000 currently in the budget to finish engineering surveys and drawings, the team received a verbal commitment from a donor pledging $2 million. This donation would help move the project forward quicker than expected, revealed Turner, and the donor will earn naming rights to the new stadium. During construction, the team will practice at Spartan Stadium and Police Activities League Stadium and seek alternative venues for games, like Santa Clara University.