Not many softball players get extensive playing time as freshmen in college.
Even less become immediate stars. Hardly any get labeled as the cornerstone of a team.
Polytechnic Institute of New York University freshman Miranda Merilli just happens to be one of those rare players.
Miranda Merilli has a 21-6 pitching record for NYU-Poly this year.
"I nicknamed her 'The Franchise,' because that's how good she is," NYU-Poly coach Jimmy Barrett said. "She's a very big part of the reason we are 31-9."
Merilli is 21-6 and has recorded 175 strikeouts in 167 innings so far this season. NYU-Poly qualified for the NCAA Division III tournament by winning the Skyline Conference title, a game in which Merilli was the winning pitcher.
"This is the farthest any team from our school has ever made it," Merilli said. "We really want to win and go as far as we can. Anything from here is amazing. It's been great so far.
"We're just like a family, because not many of us are from New York, so we basically just have each other."
Merilli is one of seven freshmen on a team with a roster of 15 players. Merilli, however, may be the most decorated one. The Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic graduate has been named Skyline Conference Rookie of the Week twice and snagged Pitcher of the Week honors March 29. Merilli also hit .375 with four doubles and eight RBIs in 24 at bats this season.
She leads all freshmen in the country in wins (21) and leads the Skyline Conference in strikeouts, wins, appearances and at one point owned a personal 19-game winning streak.
Despite her success, Merilli did not have a seamless transition into the collegiate game. She began the season just 1-5 on a season-opening road trip to Florida.
"We're looking forward to going to the regional and seeing some of those top teams again," Barrett said. "[Merilli] was 1-5 in Florida, but she just had to work her kinks out down there. She's gone 20-1 the rest of the season."
Merilli definitely noticed a difference between the high school game and the collegiate one during her trip to Florida.
"I think it's a lot different. Every batter, one through nine, is really good," Merilli said. "You have to throw your best pitches all the time. I have to make sure that every pitch is my best.
"In high school, you might get away with an accident pitch, but in college, they will hit it, and it's not going to be good."
Merilli gives much of the credit to her teammates and the work they all put in during the offseason.
"We just practiced all throughout the fall and winter," Merilli said. "I have a great team behind me that hits the crap out of the ball, and we have an incredible defense that makes all the plays."
Of the seven freshmen on the roster, five start and play major roles on the squad.
"It's been the best class of freshmen I've ever brought in," Barrett said. "This is the best season the school has ever had. Miranda has probably set every pitching record we have at the school in just one year."
"There are seven freshmen, so there's a lot of newcomers," Merilli said. "It's like we're all coming in at once. One of the other freshmen is my roommate, and the others are always in my room. They're my friends and who I hang out with at college."
The NCAA Tournament begins this week, and NYU-Poly will learn who it plays at noon today during the NCAA Selection Show. With the young core of the team, Merilli and Barrett believe the team has the potential to get better and stay on top for awhile. That doesn't mean Merilli isn't concentrating on getting better.
"I think I need to get stronger and get my pitches a little bit sharper," Merilli said. "Maybe I need to work on some new pitches and get mentally stronger as a pitcher."