NDSU hits the road for San Marcos this weekend
After a nine-month absence from the diamond, the North Dakota State softball team is ready to fly south for the winter.
The Bison will travel to San Marcos, Texas for five games in four days this weekend. They’ll square off with Texas State, University of Texas-San Antonio and Colorado State in the Texas State Bobcat Classic.
The weekend in the Lone Star State will only be the beginning of the southern travel for NDSU. The Bison will need their passports the following weekend when they travel to Mexico for a four-game swing in Puerto Vallarta.
They’ll also have trips to the campuses of Auburn, Stanford, Florida International, Florida Atlantic and South Florida. Do the math, and it accounts for 31 games and over 8,000 miles of travel for the Bison before playing a single Summit League contest. For good measure, the Bison will also play three games at Seattle University and two at Minnesota.
After making their ninth NCAA Regionals appearance in 2018, the Bison are narrow favorites to run that mark to double digits. NDSU was voted the top team in the Summit League in the preseason Coaches Poll.
The Bison won’t be without competition, however. South Dakota State was voted No. 2 in the poll, but the Bison edged their southern rivals in first place votes. The Jackrabbits return 14 players from a team that finished 37-18 a year ago, which figures to make this season’s title chase tight.
Meanwhile, the Bison bring back a dozen players from last season, eight of which are key starters.
Offensively, the Bison are led by Zoe Stavrou and Vanessa Anderson, who earned first and second team All-Summit League nods, respectively. Stavrou was one of the top hitters in the conference, batting .307 and posting an on-base percentage of .369.
Anderson was named to the conference’s preseason watchlist after batting .269 and driving in 31 runs. The senior led the Bison a season ago with a slugging percentage of .510.
Last year, however, NDSU’s bread-and-butter was inside the pitcher’s circle. Far-and-away, the Bison had the top pitching in 2018. NDSU suffocated opponents to the tune of a 2.41 earned run average (ERA), a whole 1.4 runs better than the second closest team in the Summit League. The Bison also registered a whopping 395 strikeouts, a clip north of one per inning.
That success was in large measure due to the excellence of Jacquelyn Sertic, who now pitches professionally in the Netherlands. Sertic’s sub-two ERA topped the conference.
Typically, recovering from the loss of an ace would be an insurmountable task. Such a drop-off won’t be an issue for the Bison, who have KK Leddy waiting in the wings. Leddy was right behind Sertic in ERA and completed nearly three-quarters of her starts last year.
A question mark for head coach Darren Mueller will lie in his depth behind Leddy. After only making three appearances last year, junior Kara O’Byrne will see an increased role for the Bison. She will effectively become NDSU’s No. 2 starter, while freshman Paige Vargas joins the squad.
While the Bison won’t have a home game until April 13, there will be plenty of action to follow. In all likelihood, by the time the Bison return to Fargo they’ll be in the process of claiming their sixth consecutive conference crown.