Austin Mills

Though the Yale softball team is superficially similar to its 2015–16 iteration — the current Bulldogs’ 0.366 winning percentage is similar to last year’s 0.370 — its offense has made significant strides due in no small part to contributions from an unlikely player: pitcher Francesca Casalino ’18.

In the 2015–16 campaign, the Bulldogs (15–26, 8–8 Ivy) suffered 16 losses by four or more runs, compared to just nine this season. Besides playing opponents closer, the team has increased its batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage from last season.

A large part of the increase in many major statistical categories is Casalino’s versatility and efficiency. Though the junior’s pitching stats have mostly gone down from her freshman season — she has fewer saves, innings pitched and strikeouts, in addition to giving up the most earned runs in her career this year — she has taken on a much bigger offensive role than she did in her first two seasons, in which she had just 10 at-bats combined.

The larger role that Casalino has accepted in terms of playing both offense and defense at a high level has had an impact on her pitching performance, but she does not seem to mind.

“Focusing on offense definitely makes things hard to also focus on pitching,” Casalino said. “To be honest, I didn’t want to be a pitcher in college for this reason. I loved hitting so much that I was willing to be a full-time fielder to be able to focus on my hitting.”

This year, Casalino has 87 at bats, is tied for third on the team with 15 RBIs and her 15 runs is good enough for second on the team. More impressively, Casalino has the best slugging percentage with 0.540 and has the highest batting average on the team with 0.379. Outfielder Shelby Kennedy ’19 is the only other Eli with an average above 0.300.

The pitcher also has three home runs this season, which ties the total number of home runs that the entire team combined for in the 2015–2016 season.

“Fran has sort of done it all this year for us,” outfielder Rachel Paris ’17 said. “She has consistently produced for us both as a hitter and on the mound. She has been one of our constants in a wild season and its nice knowing we can count on her to pick up a few hits and shut down the other team day in and day out.”

For Casalino, there never was any doubt that she would excel on both sides of the ball. According to the New York native, she loves pitching and hitting, and the dual role helps her feel more connected to the game.

Casalino knows that she has been an integral part of this Yale softball team, but still admits there is much to improve on. While the pitcher still thinks that her leadership is still in the process of improving, according to Paris, Casalino has really settled into her role on the team and is always ready to take charge and help out teammates.

“I think the next step for me to is truly be a leader on the field at all times,” Casalino said. “This year, I sometimes get too frustrated with myself and my performance and that truly has an effect on the team. So, if I can do this, I think it would not only benefit myself to be able to be ready for the next pitch or at-bat, but it can also allow me to have a positive influence on the team.”

Casalino has gotten better each and every season for Yale softball, and she shows no signs of slowing down. While her offensive game has blossomed alongside her already stellar pitching and defense, the junior admits that she does have some things to work on for next season to contribute to the team’s overall success. If Casalino can somehow combine her productivity at the plate this year with her success in the circle her last two seasons, the sky is the limit for Casalino in her final season.

“Francesca will have a great senior year,” second baseman Laina Do ’17 said. “She continues to raise her own standards and she pushes herself to be the best she can for the team.”

Harry Browne contributed reporting.