Youthful Hofstra swings for strides

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Hofstra softball charted a new era in February with a new leader who inherited one of the youngest rosters in the nation.

Larissa Anderson departed after four years as Hofstra head coach to take over at SEC power Missouri shortly after leading the program to its 13th NCAA Tournament appearance in 26 years. The Pride tapped National Fastpitch Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jay Miller to take the reins of a team that returns just two starters and features 12 newcomers.

“The history that this program has had over the past 25 years is very impressive,” said Miller, who won over 1,000 games as head coach at Missouri and Mississippi State. “It’s exciting, but is also challenging because of how few players returned.”

Junior shortstop Kristin Hallam anchors the Hofstra infield after playing an integral role on last year’s Pride team that went 41-14 and captured the Colonial Athletic Association title. Hallam tied for the team-lead with 63 hits last year and was hitting .438 through the Pride’s first 13 games this season.

“She is finally starting to play like she is capable of,” Miller said of Hallam, who recorded a team-high 63 hits last year. “She is starting to come alive.”

Senior Courtney Scarpato provides versatility and experience as the Pride’s other returning starter. The Pennsylvania native started at center field last year and early this season has also been slotted in the infield at second base. She also is one of Hofstra’s four pitchers and picked up her second career win in the Pride’s 10-8 extra innings win against Georgia State on March 3 in Atlanta pitching four innings in relief.

 Hofstra lost both starting pitchers from last year to other schools when former Clarke High School standout Sarah Cornell transferred to Alabama and Seaford native Sophia Dandolo switched to Syracuse. Looking to fill the void on the mound are freshmen Madison Burns and Mackenzie Suto, who have taken most of the innings so far this season. Junior Alexis Goeke and Scarpato are additional capable arms out of the bullpen.

“The freshmen are starting to get their feet wet and understand what it takes to compete at this level,” Miller said of his young arms. “They are both getting better.”

Hofstra received some new offensive punch in their lineup with the addition of freshman slugger Meghan Giordano, who holds the career New York State high schoolsoftball home run record with 56. The Westchester County native is already making her mark on the collegiate level with two home runs including a three-run bomb off ace Oklahoma ace pitcher Giselle Juarez, a 2019 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Watch List honoree.

“Meghan has provided a big punch to our offense,” Miller said. “She has been one of the biggest sparks in terms of delivering RBIs and coming through in the clutch.”

Giordano is among multiple freshmen starters making immediate impact in the Hofstra lineup along with Jaycee Ruberti, Madison McKevitt, Kasey Collins, Amanda Maffucci and Angelina Ioppolo. Maffucci provides a weapon on the base paths after recording 92 steals during her four-year high school career at Bellmore-Kennedy.

Despite a lack of experience, Hofstra is tacking a grueling schedule that features six opponents who appeared in the NCAA Tournament including two who reached the Super Regionals stage and one Women’s College World Series participant. After playing their first 16 games down south, the Pride return to the northeast for the St. John’s Invitational this weekend before Hofstra’s home opener on March 20 against LIU-Brooklyn at 3 p.m.

Hofstra begins the CAA home schedule on the weekend of March 30-31 for three games against Delaware and will also host national power James Madison for a series starting with an April 6 doubleheader at 1 p.m. The home CAA schedule wraps up with three games against Elon on May 3-4. The Pride, who were picked fourth in the eight-team CAA, can qualify for the conference tournament in May by placing in the top five.

Patriotism on display for Pride

Hofstra experienced a touching family moment early this season during a game against Kennesaw State in Atlanta on March 1. The brother of red-shirt senior outfielder Lydia Witkowski, First Lt. Charles Witkowski, decided to surprise his sister on the field before the game after being allowed to end his tour of duty in Afghanistan early. “Lydia was very surprised and her brother worked very hard to set everything up ahead of time,” Miller said. “It made for a special time for Lydia and the entire family.”