Freshmen generally don’t get a lot of playing time in Division I softball, but UNLV pitcher Stephanie Bregante was an exception last year.
Because the Rebels were inexperienced on the mound, Bregante was pressed into heavy duty. She pitched 116 innings in 38 appearances and handled the pressure respectably, going 12-10 with a 3.49 ERA.
Most importantly, she gained the experience necessary to lead the team this season.
“Going from high school to college is almost a completely different game, so that first year was important for me,” said the Danville, Calif., native “I got thrown into games against UCLA and Cal, and I couldn’t even believe it. This year it’s no big deal.”
Bregante has helped UNLV (19-13-1) get through a rigorous nonleague schedule with a winning record. As the team’s big-game starter, she is 10-7 with a 2.28 ERA and 13 complete games in 126 innings.
UNLV coach Lonni Alameda said she has been impressed by Bregante’s composure.
“Stephanie has matured in more ways than just being a pitcher,” Alameda said. “She’s really stepped up and made big changes in her conditioning and in the mentality of her pitching. She thinks a lot about game-management skills and her role as a leader.”
The leadership aspect is particularly important to Alameda, whose young squad has been inconsistent. Though the Rebels were ranked 18th after a 9-1-1 start, they have struggled since late February.
Bregante has suffered many of the losses, often because of poor fielding. She said she never expected to emerge from a top-20 schedule without some losses, but she concedes that the Rebels’ confidence has flagged.
“We just came out fearless in the beginning,” Bregante said. “We had nothing to lose. Once we were ranked, we knew that any team could beat us and knock us out.”
But Bregante also believes it’s her role to help her teammates relax, and she does not mind that responsibility.
“I have more control than I’ve ever had,” Bregante said. “When I’m having a good day, it rubs off on the whole team.”
The Rebels are trying to focus on those good days. Bregante said her team’s 1-0 loss to then second-ranked UCLA on March 5 was a sign that UNLV can compete with any team in the country.
“In some of those bigger games, our intensity level goes all out,” she said. “Those are the games where we really go after them.”
Alameda said victories and setbacks are part of the learning process early in the season. She is hoping Bregante and the Rebels carry those lessons into Mountain West Conference play, which begins April 5 at San Diego State.
“This is a marathon,” said Alameda, whose team went 4-1 in a round-robin tourney against Utah Valley and Nebraska at Eller Media Stadium over the weekend. “You’ve got to have these types of experiences. You can’t let all the ups and downs of the pre-conference schedule get you down. You’ve got to take all that information into conference.”
There are still a few non-conference games to be played. The Rebels head to California to play a double-header against Loyola Marymount on Wednesday.