The Mack Report

Be Aggressive: New Mindset Has Warriors On a Roll

Tawny Palmieri

Tawny Palmieri has led Merrimack’s new, aggressive offense (Courtesy Merrimack Athletics)

Jim Cardello’s resume was, literally, second to no one.

That’s why the New Hampshire native was hired as Merrimack’s softball coach last September, bringing with him an impressive history as an assistant, especially at the plate, where he helped UMass Lowell increase its team batting average by over 100 points in just his first season with the River Hawks in 2009. Moreover, he has brought a new, refreshing philosophy to the Merrimack program that has the Warriors winners of 11 of their last 16 games as they hit the most important part of their schedule.

“Traditionally (softball) is a conservative sport,” he said. “We look to be more aggressive. We encourage our players to swing the bat, not just looking to put it in play but looking to hit the gaps and over the fence when possible.”

The Warriors have five batters hitting over .300 in their lineup and belted 30 home runs on the season, which is second in the conference. Other examples of Merrimack’s aggressiveness includes 43 stolen bases, which is third in the NE-10, and seven triples, which is fourth in the league.

Cardello is Merrimack’s third head coach in the last three seasons. Such a drastic change in mindset didn’t come without a learning curve, but the Warriors are 11-5 in their last 16 games and 8-6 in the Northeast-10, which is tied for fourth in their division with Stonehill.

Merrimack now enters a stretch where it will play the final eight games of the regular season in a six days.

“I think (our style) took some time for us to really put together at first,” Cardello said. “I’m not the most patient person in the world, so I expected us to just be ready and play the way we’ve been playing recently from day one. But this league has a lot of talent and we’re trying to play the game a little different than the way a lot of the players were taught.”

That style isn’t just at the plate. The Warriors are third in the conference with 12 double plays.

“Defensively we’re looking to get as many outs as possible,” Cardello said. “As simple as that might sound, traditionally, kids are taught to just get an out. Philosophically we’re trying to get those double plays when we can. We’re starting to grasp it more and more. We’re not trying to just get one out. If we have the opportunity to take advantage of something, we want to do it. We’re trying to be aggressive everywhere. It’s definitely a different take.”

He continued, “You need to have the athletes to play the way we play, and thankfully we’ve been blessed with a lot of athletic players and a lot of talent. We started in the fall with our workouts and that’s where we started to introduce this. There were times we had five balls all in play with our infielders at once and everyone’s doing something. They have to make those throws immediately. I think that helped set the tone for the way we want to play.”

Tawny Palmieri, a returning all-conference player, leads the team with a .424 average. Keaira Monet Perry is batting .375 and leads the team with five home runs. Jessice Fugazzotto, who hit just .154 last season, is batting .313 this year.

Ashley Perry is batting .307 and is tied with Money Perry for the team lead with five home runs.

“Tawny has increased her batting average and slugging percentage and she was already a great player to begin with,” Cardello said. “Ashley Perry had not hit above .200 the last two years and she’s up above .300 now. They’re also starting on the left side of our infield and are important with getting those double plays.

“I expect our top-9 bitters to be batting .300 by the end of the year, and those are the players that will be in the lineup,” he said. “There are a lot of girls who have taken to our approach and made themselves better hitters.”

The Warriors wrap up the regular season with a double-header today at home against St. Anselm before traveling to Stonehill for two games on Thursday. The Warriors will then be at Bentley on Thursday and play two at home against Franklin Pierce on Saturday (senior day) before traveling to Franklin Pierce for a pair of games on Sunday.