Eastern head coach fills summer coaching vacancy with NPF's Riptide
WILLIMANTIC, Conn. -- In a softball league comprised exclusively of professionals and dominated by former Division I players and current Division I coaches, the New England franchise in National Pro Fastpitch has dipped into the Division III ranks in order to put the Rip back into Riptide.
Based in Lowell, Mass., the Riptide appointed Eastern Connecticut State University head softball coach Diana Pepin hitting coach two months into their three-month summer season after a coaching shakeup left the club in immediate need of an assistant coach.
Pepin was recommended for the vacancy by former Eastern softball assistant coach Normand Pariseau, a first-year assistant coach at Quinnipiac University. Riptide head coach Germaine Fairchild, who serves as head coach at Quinnipiac during the collegiate season, then contacted New England general manager Joe Adlman, who phoned Pepin with the offer. The position is a part-time one and does not impact upon Pepin's current status as Eastern's head coach.
"Norm recommended me. He said that I would really help with the hitting aspect, because I've worked with him so much and I've really brought Eastern along," remembers Pepin, who was assisted by Pariseau for three seasons through the 2007 campaign. "Germaine said that she agreed and would love to have me work with the hitters."
Pepin, who led the Warriors to a 28-14 record and a berth in the NCAA Division III tournament in her seventh season this past spring, joined New England more than halfway through its 40-game regular-season league schedule. Pepin joined the club July 19 in the final game of a four-game set with the visiting Akron Racers at Martin Softball Field in Lowell. Following a four-game series the next weekend against the visiting Chicago Bandits, Pepin recently accompanied the Riptide to Illinois for their final regular-season road trip - four games against the Rockford Thunder and four against the Bandits.
New England struggled offensively through the first half of the season, but managed to score a total of 14 runs in its recent four-game road series with Chicago. The Riptide were hitting .255 with four regular-season games remaining, with three hitters at .300 or better.
"Some of the (Riptide) hitters have a plan and they know what they need to do, and you don't have to tell them a lot," said Pepin. "Some are really struggling and you have to work in the mental approach. When I showed them the (hitting) video, they really liked that and they continued to ask me questions about hitting and how they can get better, and what they need to do to perform."
The team entertains the defending playoff champion Washington Glory in its final regular-season series August 14-17, with the outcome to determine its post-season fate. The 2006 Cowles Cup champion, New England enters that final series tied with Akron for the fourth and final playoff spot in the six-team league.
While 15 of the 17 players on the Riptide's roster played for many of the Division I national powerhouse programs -Michigan, Arizona State and Northwestern among them -- Pepin said that her suggestions and teaching methods were well-received.when she arrived on the scene in July.
"The majority of the players are very coachable and very receptive," noted Pepin, who indicated that a six-day stretch of practice prior to the Illinois road trip was essential in helping her implement her theories. "They didn't look at me as a Division III coach - they just looked at me as a hitting coach. Their reaction was that 'she's our coach, she's going to work with us on hitting, and that's what it is... and we're happy to have her.'"
"I felt very comfortable (with the Riptide) because of the season that we had (at Eastern)," added Pepin. "And I feel comfortable in what I'm teaching.
The Warriors were among the most lethal offensive teams in Division III this past year, posting a team batting average of .344 and averaging nearly seven runs per game, smacking 29 home runs, and collecting nearly 600 total bases. They shared the Little East Conference regular-season championship and later knocked off the top seed in the NCAA regional tournament (Montclair State) en route to their winningest season in 14 years.