Replacing six seniors is difficult for any collegiate softball team, But when three of those seniors are among a team’s top five in batting average and one has the second-lowest ERA of any pitcher, it is easy to see how a team might find it especially challenging to fill those gaps.
Seton Hall’s softball team found itself in that exact situation entering the 2018 season. Despite the holes the players’ departure left for coach Paige Smith to fill, the Pirates have found the offense they sought through a blend of veteran talent and freshman revelations.
It was natural to assume that current senior Alexis Walkden would step up as the Pirates’ top hitter entering her final season. After all, Walkden finished her junior season with the team’s highest batting average, .352, and led the team in hits (50), doubles (15), home runs (13), runs scored (31), RBI (39) and slugging percentage (.746). However, at the midpoint of this season, it has been freshman outfielder Janae Barracato carrying the load offensively.
With 15 games remaining, Barracato’s .328 batting average, 39 hits and eight doubles pace the team. Barracato is in the top three among starters in on-base percentage (.375), slugging percentage (.496), home runs (4) and runs (18). For a first-year player, her role as a primary offensive player is impressive.
Barracato is not the only freshman making an instant impact on the team’s offense, as freshman catcher Payton Beaver has been dominant at the plate for the Hall as well. Beaver ranks second on the team in batting average at .313, behind only Barracato. Her 35 hits, third on the team, have led to high offensive numbers, as she ranks in the team’s top three in doubles (6), RBI (17) and on-base-percentage (.425). Together, Barracato and Beaver have been a dynamic youth movement that has energized this Pirate roster and supplemented its offense to help the team bounce back from offseason exits.
Sophomore Hailey Arteaga has also made a significant contribution to the team’s offense, leading the team in RBI, (25) and hits (37). Arteaga and Beaver are the only two players to start in each game this season, demonstrating an impressive amount of trust placed in the two young players, in addition to durability.
Even with dominant young players, the Pirates sit in sixth place in the Big East as of April 11, ahead of just Georgetown and Villanova. Statistically, some Pirates rank among the best players in the conference. Barracato, Beaver and Arteaga stand in the top-10 in hits in the Big East, while Walkden has the seventh-most runs scored and second-most home runs in the conference. Arteaga also has the fourth-most RBI in the Big East as of April 11. However, the success of Seton Hall’s underclassmen have not equaled victories in the win column as of yet.
Either way, the Pirates’ younger players are putting the team’s in a solid position to be competitive down stretch this season. Not only do they possess hitting skills beyond their years and impressive stats, but they are setting the bar high for future seasons and dominant individual tenures on the team. While it may be hard to avoid a numbers-lowering slump, most young players inevitably hit a wall at some point. Given the young talent on the roster Seton Hall’s freshmen and sophomores will undoubtedly find a way to bounce back from any potential slump and provide the rest of the Big East with a tough test down the stretch and in the years to come.
Bob Towey can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @BobTowey5.