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Saint Mary'es College Athletics

Softball

The Saint Mary's softball team will return a host of starters next season.
The Saint Mary's softball team will return a host of starters next season.
SB | Season Of Growth Lays Foundation For Future
Release: Friday 05/23/2013 
by SMC Athletics

MORAGA, Calif. -- Sometimes, a record doesn't tell the whole story.

Consider the Saint Mary's softball team. The 2013 season is in the books, with the Gaels compiling a 20-31 overall mark and finishing 11-13 in the Pacific Coast Softball Conference.

But a closer look into that record shows just how far head coach Jessica Hanaseth-Rodgers' squad came.

A team that began the year with 12 freshmen on the roster gained on-the-job experience, playing a brutally tough schedule early in the season and taking its lumps as new players found their footing in college softball.

By the end of the season, those players were freshmen no longer.

Wins in eight of nine games put Saint Mary's in position to challenge for the PCSC title on the last weekend of the season, and although the final series at BYU didn't end up the way the Gaels wanted, the simple fact that the chance existed was a testament to how much the team grew and improved throughout the season.

"I just think the strides the team made as a whole, from the start of the year to where we finished, was tremendous," Hanaseth-Rodgers said. "It was everything you hope for as a coach in a young team and everything you question as a coach with a young team. Is it going to happen, when is it going to happen? It did for the group, which I was very pleased with."

There were plenty of growing pains early in the season. By playing tournaments in Hawai'i, Santa Clara, Fresno and Sacramento, the Gaels ended up with one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the nation.

Leading the way all season was a pair of seniors who had seen it all in Moraga. Pitcher Jessica Lemmon and catcher Megan Smith contributed on the field -- Smith was a first team All-PCSC selection and Lemmon led the team in ERA and strikeouts -- but also off it as well to help mold a young group.

"For them to stay patient at the beginning of the year and to see the big picture and to know we're young and understand that was huge," Hanaseth-Rodgers said. "I told them that they'll always be a part of that, giving them that foundation of what I taught them when they were younger. They played a huge role, and they will for the next three years until those kids graduate.

The tough competition showed which underclassmen were ready to perform.

One player who stepped forward immediately was pitcher Lujane Mussadi. A freshman from Los Gatos, Calif., Mussadi became the Gaels primary pitcher, leading the team in innings (190.2), appearances (41) and complete games (20).

"She was the workhorse this year. She just showed up and threw til she couldn't throw any more and if we asked her to throw, she threw some more," said Hanaseth-Rodgers. "She threw 103 innings in conference alone. I knew it was a lot. I didn't know it was that much. She's going to get some well deserved rest but she wants (the high workload), which is great."

By conference play, Saint Mary's was ready to compete. Splits against Utah Valley and San Diego proved the Gaels were in the mix. Getting swept at Loyola Marymount could've sent the season spiraling downward, but the Gaels responded by sweeping Santa Clara in the final home series of the season to bounce right back.

That momentum only continued to grow. The biggest win of the season came in a mid-week trip to Stanford, as the Gaels got home runs from All-PCSC second teamer Brittany Sabatini and Andrea Hazel to stun the No. 15-ranked Cardinal 5-2.

Saint Mary's returned to PCSC play in fine form, taking three of four at Cal State Bakersfield. The Gaels would drop four at BYU to finish the season, but ended up finishing right in the middle of the standings in fourth.

2013 was Saint Mary's final season in the PCSC, as the Gaels transition to the West Coast Conference in 2014.

"The PCSC has done a great job," Hanaseth-Rodgers said. "The couple commissioners we had and early on the coaches that helped start it and make the rules, it's going to be a foundation for the WCC, which is great because there'll always be a piece of that there."

Hanaseth-Rodgers takes a now-seasoned club with her into the new conference next season. Sabatini leads a group of three incoming seniors, and a team that began this season green now heads into the offseason looking to build on the momentum of a strong second half in 2013.

"We just kind of threw them to the wolves this season," Hanaseth-Rodgers said. "But if you look at the second half of the season, beating ranked opponents, putting up the numbers we did pitching, offensively, defensively, it just came together.