Season in review: Syracuse struggles with youth, inconsistency while growing through up-and-down year

first_img Published on May 16, 2013 at 7:52 pm Contact Debbie: [email protected] | @debbietruong For the first time in four seasons, Syracuse players will be watching the NCAA tournament from somewhere unfamiliar for this time of year — home.After eking into the Big East tournament with a win against Providence, SU’s season ended May 9 with a 12-3 trouncing and a first-round tournament exit at the hands of Louisville. The NCAA tournament is slated to begin May 31 in Oklahoma City.A year ago, Syracuse played in the NCAA tournament, advancing to the regional finals before being ousted by Arizona State. That team was spearheaded by Jenna Caira, who toppled school and national records en route to becoming the winningest pitcher in Syracuse history.This season, the newly graduated Caira swapped her uniform for coaching attire, becoming a fixture along the first-base line as she urged on a new-look Syracuse squad. The team’s inexperience reared itself periodically throughout the season in both inconsistency at the mound and in small, mental missteps that amounted to losses in the end.“We’re young and the team needs to find themselves and kind of define who they are. We still haven’t done that,” head coach Leigh Ross said following a pair of April 6 losses in a weekend series against DePaul.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textCaira’s departure left a vacancy at the mound, but Syracuse appeared to have found a steady pitching rotation after sophomore Lindsay Taylor started 16 games early in the season, including an 11-inning standoff at the Spring Fling Tournament in O’ahu, Hawaii where Syracuse earned a spot in the championship game.But Taylor went down with an undisclosed injury at the start of April, leaving career reliever Stacy Kuwik to shoulder starter minutes. By season’s end, Kuwik totaled 175 innings, 53 more than last season when Syracuse went deeper into postseason play.“I’ve had, definitely, a bumpy road compared to other years,” Kuwik said after a late-April win against Seton Hall. “In the past, I’ve played cleanup, a game-saver sort of role. And, so this year, taking that role was definitely a difficult challenge.”Taylor’s injury added to the struggles of an inexperienced team that was still trying to establish footing midway through the season. Freshmen Lindsey Larkin and Danielle Chitkowski contributed sporadic innings on the mound, but the inconsistency and lack of steady, vocal on-field leadership was, at points, frustrating.“Right now, we’re looking for a leader. We’re looking for someone to step up,” Caira said on April 7, after DePaul dominated at the plate to sweep the series. “We just got to stay more disciplined. We can’t just settle.” In that game, DePaul managed 16 runs on the same amount of hits, compared to Syracuse’s two runs.Two weekends later against Seton Hall, Larkin didn’t pitch a full inning before being pulled from the second game of the doubleheader. Chitkowski and redshirt senior Gaby Torzilli didn’t fare much better before Kuwik reclaimed the post.Kuwik finished her senior season with a respectable 15-12 record, bookending the regular season by winning praise from Caira for developing better control of her pitches as the season progressed. The season was a growing process for Kuwik, who evolved from a pitcher whose confidence was easily shaken, to the team’s go-to option.Difficulties in filling the pitching void aside, senior Morgan Nandin and junior Shirley Daniels each established themselves as reliable defensive stalwarts, nabbing sometimes unthinkable, consistently cheer-generating plays throughout the season.In the Seton Hall series finale, Daniels plucked a would-be home run from mid-air, just as it appeared certain to clear the left-field fence. Daniels also set an SU single-season record with 35 steals.Syracuse’s record-holder in career starts at shortstop, Nandin continued with the defensive production that became her hallmark across four seasons. As the regular season wound down and SU closed with a win against Providence, Nandin said she had lofty postseason expectations for Syracuse, convinced that despite being the underdog, the Orange would do something special.SU fell short on that prediction, but Syracuse forged a deeper team identity as the season wore on, developing a stronger understanding of the team as a unit.Said Nandin after the win against Providence: “We’re playing as more of a team,” she said. “We’re picking each other up and we need that.” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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