Based on her career at Phillips Academy, where she hit .533 as a four-year starter, Lindsay Maroney of Bradford was naturally confident that she had the basics of softball down to a science.
Just like Whitney Mollica thought she did three years before.
That was before arriving at UMass Amherst to play for legendary coach Elaine Sortino, who surpassed 1,000 wins in her 28th season this spring.
Mollica, the former Salem High great, gave Maroney a heads-up on what to expect.
"Whitney told me, and she wasn't the only one, that 'You're going to feel like you've never played softball before,' " said Maroney. "And that's about how I felt. It was pretty frustrating."
Although Maroney displayed bat speed and power as a Big Blue senior last year, when she hit a robust .679, Sortino did not hesitate to make significant changes.
"She changed everything about the way I bat — my stance, my step, the way I swing, my body motion," said Maroney. "It was tough in the beginning, but it gradually became more natural, and now I can see the difference. My bat speed is quicker, I can identify pitches better, I can hit with more power ... everything is improved."
The improvement has been demonstrated at the plate in a big way.
After recovering from a preseason dislocated finger that kept her out of action for a couple of weeks, Maroney quickly developed into the most dynamic freshman in the Atlantic 10 for UMass, which enters this weekend's NCAA regional at Amherst with a nation's-best 29 game winning streak and 39-11 record.
As the team's designated hitter, Maroney earned both the Rookie of the Year award and All-Atlantic 10 status after hitting a superb .374 with 4 home runs and 25 RBIs, posting a .420 on-base percentage and a .593 slugging percentage. She is second on the team in hitting and leads in stolen bases with seven swipes in nine attempts.
"It's been a surprise because, as a freshman, you can't expect much," said Maroney. "All I was hoping was to get as much playing time as I could."
Sortino, however, had a hunch that Maroney would make a significant contribution right away.
"When I recruited Lindsay, I felt like for us to be successful this year, Lindsay had to have a role," said Sortino. "She's a remarkable athlete and very bright kid with all sorts of potential."
Always a tremendous defensive player as well, Maroney would love to also be in the field, and is aiming to start in the outfield next year.
"It's been an adjustment — you just have to stay involved," said Maroney, who is joined in the freshman class by Stephanie Mayne of North Reading, who is sitting out as a redshirt. "But I think it's helped me focus more on hitting."
Maroney's season is reminiscent of the fantastic freshman campaign by Mollica, who two years ago was Atlantic 10 Player of the Year when she hit a nifty .394 with 12 home runs and 61 RBIs.
Mollica saw some of herself in Maroney.
"Lindsay has a lot of talent," said Mollica, whose numbers are up significantly from an injury-plagued sophomore campaign. "I remember telling her (in fall practice) to keep being aggressive but without being so hyper. I was the same way as a freshman."
Mollica, the senior member of the dynamic duo, was also all-Atlantic 10. The junior leads the 20th-ranked Minutemen in hits (52) and sacrifice bunts (10) and batted .329 with five home runs and 28 RBIs. Maroney had the key RBI and was 2 for 3 in the 3-0 Atlantic 10 championship win last weekend and Mollica had the walk-off, ninth-inning RBI single in the 5-4 semifinal win.
Ready for the Regionals
UMass hosts the double-elimination regional. Top-seed Stanford (46-12), ranked eighth in the country, will open the four-team field at 2:30 p.m. Friday against Lehigh while UMass will follow at 5 p.m. against Princeton. The tourney concludes Sunday.
UMass won its regional two years ago, when it went 41-16, before falling in the super regional, but Mollica believes this team is more equipped for success.
"You need good pitching, great defense and good hitting to go far, and I think we're a little stronger in every area," said Mollica. "Especially our pitching, because (All-American) Brandice (Balschmiter) just keeps getting better."
Local M&M attack
Lindsay Maroney%Freshman%DH%.374%4%25%Led team in stolen bases with 7
Whitney Mollica%Junior%3B%.329%5%28%Led team in hits and sacrifice bunts
NCAA Regional slate
At UMass Amherst
Friday: Game 1, 2:30 p.m. — No. 1 Stanford (46-12) vs. No. 4 Lehigh (38-15-1)
Game 2, 5 p.m. — No. 2 UMass (39-11) vs. No. 3 Princeton (25-22)
Saturday: Game 3, noon — Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2
Game 4, 2:30 p.m. — Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2
Game 5, 5 p.m. — Loser Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4
Sunday: Game 6, 1 p.m. — Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 5
Game 7, 3 p.m. — if necessary