The Mack Report

Merrimack Opens NE-10 Softball Tournament at Home Tuesday


NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – The seniors that take the field for Merrimack College on Tuesday afternoon in the Northeast-10 tournament are hoping to put one last exclamation point on their careers as Warriors.

Things could barely get better for this class as freshmen, advancing all the way to the NCAA Super Regional in 2011. Little did they know, at the time, that it would be the start of a crazy journey that would see the class play for three different head coaches after Elaine Schwager resigned following the 2011 season and Jill Karwoski resigned after just one season in 2012.

That opened the door for Jim Cardello, who was hired prior to the 2013 season. The Warriors aren’t shy to admit, he’s been the anchor that has helped re-establish the program.

Merrimack is appearing in the playoffs for the first time since 2011.

“Our freshman year was surreal,” said senior captain Ashley Perry. “Going from high school to being in Super Regionals, it was unreal. Then we got the news over that summer that our coach was resigning, and that was in August, I think, so we didn’t have much time. As it turns out, we have been through three coaches here. Coach Jim came in here last year and he has helped turn it around. He knows how we need play and I know, when my time here at Merrimack is over, that the program is heading in the right direction.

“For a while, it was like every fall was almost like tryouts with new coaches. It was a lot more stress than we needed. I think it caused some distraction, naturally. Coach Jim is in it for us. He has how he wants to play the game and we know that he’s making sure we’re always moving forward.”

The Warriors were 9-15 through their first 24 games this season before going on a stellar run to close the regular season and earn not only a playoff berth, but a first-round home game.

Merrimack closed the regular season going 11-4 in its final 15 games.

“Our season has been short, and we played our final 13 games in only eight or nine days,” said senior captain Keaira Monet Perry. “It all started to click. Our pitching has been good all year but our hitting was a little sporadic. It just all started to align for us.”

Perry added, “It was a matter of putting together clutch hits together, even in one inning. We had some trouble starting off games at first, but during this streak we have been getting out on top and holding a lead.

“Coach has been telling us to treat all of these games like playoff games, because for us they all have been. That has helped us keep our focus, too.”

Part of Merrimack’s success has been thanks to its tremendous power at the plate. The Warriors lead the NE-10 with a .449 slugging percentage and are fourth in the league in home runs with 32; the Warriors lead the league with 11 triples.

The 11 triples is due in part to Merrimack’s ultra-aggressive approach, which is something Cardello installed when he took over last season.

“Coach’s approach is to take softball and make it a lot more aggressive,” Monet Perry said. “I’ve heard people say sometimes they’d rather watch paint dry and than softball. A lot of teams are passive. We’re aggressive. If we see a team back on their heels, we want to take advantage of that and take extra bases when we can. I think Jess (Fugazzotto) has maybe the most stolen bases in the conference. We want to drive it, and then take as many bases as we can. Coach has been working a lot with us on finding the gaps.”

The aggressiveness on the bases, combined with the Warriors pop at the plate, has resulted in 167 runs scored in 39 games. (4.28 per game). In the final 15 games of the regular season, the Warriors averaged 5.73 runs per game (86 total).

“With Jaclyn (Giovannini), every time she’s up there I think she’s about to hit one out,” Monet Perry said.

Perry added, “I also think we’re built for (our field). We don’t have the biggest field or the tallest fence, and we have been able to take advantage of it.”

After senior day was washed out over the weekend due to rain, the Merrimack seniors are glad to have one more chance to play on the softball diamond.

The Warriors are also 9-1 at home this season, facing a Bentley team on Tuesday it beat twice in the regular season.

“Getting the home playoff game made Senior Day more bearable knowing we had at least one more game here,” Perry said. “We’re 9-1 at home, and I think that shows right there how comfortable we are here. Having our fans here and being in our environment is going to help.”

First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m.