Sarah Prezioso enjoys playing at Ambler, but not just because of the home-field advantage.
“The field’s really good with taking the hops,” Prezioso said. “We rarely get bad hops…Compared to [Wagner’s field] it feels like Yankee Stadium or something.”
The junior shortstop had three errors Thursday on Wagner’s field in a double-header, which she characterized as rocky and hard. Typically a sure-handed fielder and a defensive leader, Prezioso had trouble with some of the hops, and the team finished with four errors on the day.
But that was the exception more than the rule. The Owls (16-15, 5-1 Atlantic 10 Conference) sit atop the A-10 in fielding percentage with a mark of 96 percent.
Coach Joe DiPietro has said throughout the season that he recruited this team because of its ability to hit at will. The focus wasn’t on fielding, but that hasn’t stopped the Owls from performing at a high level on the diamond.
“We drill them, we drill them, we drill them and we drill them,” DiPietro said of why the fielding is tops in the conference. “Once you start to feel good about yourself on the field like that, you make those plays and you don’t have any errors.”
The team has done it with a combination of veteran leaders at key positions and with freshmen stepping in immediately and making an impact with the glove. When not on the rubber, freshman Kelsey Dominik typically mans one of the corner infield positions while classmates Leah Lucas and Annie Marcopolus are holding the fort at second base and left field, respectively.
“With the freshmen we brought in we improved our overall team speed,” DiPietro said.
The trio of freshman fielders has 140 putouts, 70 assists and 13 errors – Marcopolus has zero – for a combined .943 fielding percentage. They’ve also been part of 14 double plays this season.
“I think they’ve been doing amazing, because I know when I came up as a freshman I didn’t know what to expect,” Prezioso said. “I was just thrown out there.”
“They’re also, for freshmen, a lot more mature,” Prezioso added. “So they can handle a lot. I feel like they can handle pressure pretty well.”
But the defensive leaders have been senior centerfielder Ali Robinson and Prezioso. Prezioso has nine errors, due mainly to her three-error day against Wagner, but has a fielding percentage of .931.
“The plays she makes, she makes some unbelievable plays that get taken for granted, and that’s really unfortunate,” DiPietro said. “She’ll make a great play in the hole and throw a kid out and people are like, ‘Oh.’ And they don’t realize that kid’s phenomenal making that play.”
Robinson has yet to record an error on 41 total plays, one of five Owls without an error with at least 30 attempts.
“She’s the voice you hear all the time,” DiPietro said. “She’s definitely the person that keeps the team going and she talks the whole game non-stop…I don’t know how I’m going to replace that next year.”
The combination of Prezioso and Lucas in the middle of the infield has also been a key for a team ranked third in the A-10 in double plays (12). The Owls also have allowed 19 stolen bases, which ranks second in the conference. The team has a stolen base percentage of 85 percent.
Lucas fills in at a spot where DiPietro didn’t have an answer last season. DiPietro said sophomore Julia Kastner had to man second base last year out of need, despite being an outfielder by trade. Now he has the right pieces in the right places, which has helped the team’s performance.
“Last year we had kids playing out of position a little bit,” DiPietro said. “This year we don’t have that, we have people playing where they belong.”
That can only help Prezioso, despite her rough defensive outing against Wagner. She bounced back in the double-header at home on Sunday, April 7, against St. Bonaventure and didn’t commit an error.
Jake Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jakeadams520.