(Posted March 1, 2005)

Huntingdon, PA - Since head coach John Houck made the leap from assistant to head softball coach three seasons ago, the Eagle's squad has seen its win total go up each year. In 2003, the team broke the school record for wins in a season with 19, only to top it last season with 20. Juniata qualified for the Commonwealth postseason each the last two seasons, but has been bounced from the tournament in two games on both occasions.

This season, despite some key departures and a relatively young team, Juniata's goal of making the conference postseason remains constant. This year, however, they want to win it.

"We're a young team this year, very young, but we're still very talented," Houck said. "These juniors, freshmen and sophomores are going to have to step it up. They are going to have to mature quickly. [We're] filling in a lot of leadership positions with new people but they're definitely talented enough to continue the trend to make sure we have another 20-win season."

Juniata loses five seniors central to last season's playoff team. With their departure also goes nearly half of Juniata's run production from a year ago. Chief among the losses is all-conference selection Becky Herr '04. The shortstop led the team in batting average, RBIs and hits.

But, Juniata's cupboard is far from empty. The Eagles return second-team All-Conference selection Allison D'Ambrosia (State College/Boalsburg), plus its entire pitching staff from a year ago.

At the plate, D'Ambroisa takes over as Juniata's most lethal offensive weapon. After posting career highs in nearly every statistical category last season, the senior should carry the Eagle's offense in 2005. She will also be looked to as a team leader this season.

"Being the only senior on the team, whether she likes it or not, she has to fill that role," Houck said. "Being that we have the lack of experience that we do, someone is going to have to get these girls game-readyâ?¦Alison will be relied on very heavily, along with some of the juniors in key positions."

Juniata's pitching staff may well be its biggest asset. Renae Hobbs (Mount Union/Mount Union) returns for her junior season with a stellar 1.64 ERA. The staff's ace started 16 games and won ten of them, going the distance 11 times. Right behind Hobbs is eight-game winner Lizzie Bartosik (Penn/Granger, In.). The duo started all but three games last season and should be critical to Juniata's success this season.

The combination should be effective, even though the Eagles will be starting a freshman catcher.

"The pitchers are really going to have to use their pitching abilities to think for themselves [this season]," Houck said. "They're going to have to know the batters now, they can't all just rely on the catcher. They're going to have to really rely on their pitching abilities now and their inner pitching 'sense.'"

Pitching will be crucial this season because Juniata relies so heavily on its defense to win ball games.

"We strive on defense," Houck said. "That's the way the coaching staff sets it up. We'll manufacture runs somewhereâ?¦everyone makes mistakes, so we'll manufacture runs from the opponent's mistakes. We don't let them manufacture runs on us. We're a defensive team. That's the way we've always been since I've been coaching and that's the way we're always going to be, as far as I'm concerned. We were second my first year in defense and first the last two years. I plan on being first this year, also."

The Eagles will try to scratch out runs by playing small ball - stretching singles into doubles, bunting runners over, stealing bases - playing fundamentally sound baseball. If they can find some consistent offense to compliment its stellar defense and pitching staff, its goal of a Commonwealth Championship is suddenly a very realistic one.

"I'm hoping to be in the [conference] finals when it comes the first week in May," Houck said. "There's no reason we shouldn't; we have the ability and the talent to do it. I'm really looking forward to this year's team to see what they can do."

The Eagles will beging the 2005 season March 7 when the team will begin a week-long tournament in Myrtle Beac, S.C.


Our readers respond...

Be the first to provide a response.

Contact April Feagley at feaglea@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.