(Posted March 14, 2008)

They have hitting. They have pitching. But do they have enough of both to make it into the post-season?

That's the question facing the Juniata College softball team as it takes the field for its 2008 campaign.

The Eagles return their top four hitters and top pitcher from a year ago, off a squad that finished the season with a 13-17 overall record, 3-11 in the Commonwealth Conference. Juniata will be hoping to reap the benefits of having played so many underclassmen during 2007, giving the Eagles significant experience at virtually every position on the field.

"I think that our experience is our greatest strength," said Juniata head coach John Houck. "Even though we're playing a lot of sophomores and juniors, they've been playing together for us now for two seasons."

Defensively, the Eagles are solid; Juniata's .949 fielding percentage and 46 team errors were right around the rest of the pack last season in the Commonwealth Conference. Hitting was another story; the Eagles were a distant eighth in the league in team runs batted in, and last in on-base percentage.

"To generate any offense, you have to be able to hit. We have to work on moving our runners into scoring position, and then forcing those runners to score," said Houck.

A look at the Eagles by position:

PITCHER: Juniata's pitching hopes will rest on the arm of sophomore Alyssa Erb, who is coming off a phenomenal rookie season. As a freshman, Erb logged a 12-6 record with a 1.90 ERA over 129 complete innings pitched, setting new records for strikeouts in a game, strikeouts in a season, and wins in a season. Junior Pam Mansell, Juniata's number two pitcher, has really developed into a solid performer, and is poised to show tremendous improvement in 2008. Sophomore Stacy Nagy may see some innings in the circle if she's needed, and the defensive lineup will allow her to move away from regular position at shortstop.

CATCHER: The Eagles will go with a two-catcher rotation in 2008. Senior Amanda Albanese returns for her final season behind the plate, and will play as much as her surgically repaired shoulder will let her. Junior Jackie Morley, who doubles as the Eagles' starting right fielder, will earn a large share of her starts at catcher. Exactly how much time each receives will depend on how the chemistry develops between each catcher and the Juniata pitchers.

INFIELD: Third base will be anchored by junior Tara Carl, who will move over to the "hot corner" from second base. Carl was third on the team in hitting last season with a .320 average, and posted a .950 fielding percentage while playing second base. She has performed well at third during pre-season workouts, and "has a good arm, good reactions, and good range for that position" according to Eagle Head Coach John Houck. Backing up Carl will be newcomer Melissa Moffat, who shows some of the same attributes as Carl but is still adjusting to the speed of the college game according to Houck. She has shown great strides of improvement during spring workouts. Another newcomer, Juliet Garlow, has displayed a great glove at third, and gives the coaching staff a lefty bat to work with as an offensive option.

Sophomore Stacy Nagy gives Juniata a wonderful glove, good range, and a cannon for an arm at shortstop. She had a .950 fielding percentage with just six errors at short in 2007; offensively, she was fourth on the team in hitting with a .317 average, and is extremely intelligent in various hitting situations. When Stacy Nagy is in the circle, Carl will move over from third base to cover the shortstop position.

Freshman Caley McCool will step into the defensive lineup at second base. She has displayed very good range and an unusually strong arm for a freshman, and makes good contact with the ball when she's at the plate. Sophomore Denalyn Spratt returns to softball after not playing in 2007, and will backup McCool at second. She is a very strong hitter and can really drive the ball according to Houck.

First base is the capable hands of sophomore Rachel Nagy, who played third base in 2007. An All-Commonwealth Conference selection a year ago, Rachel Nagy led the Eagles last season with a .420 average with 11 extra-base hits and a team-high 25 runs batted in. She moved over to first base, her natural position, during fall workouts and has gotten a real boost of confidence with the move. Moffat will play behind Rachel Nagy at first as backup.

OUTFIELD: Sophomore Sarah Eckard will start for the Eagles in left field and will, in all likelihood, be Juniata's leadoff hitter. She was second on the team in hitting with a .342 average last season, and her .414 on-base percentage was also second among Eagle players. She combines great speed with a good bat, and will be counted on to set the table for the latter part of the Eagle batting order. Mansell will serve as a backup to Eckard, when she's not pitching.

Junior Liz Schmitt has one of the best arms on the team according to Houck, and will start in center field. At the plate, she is a good power hitter, finishing last season with five extra-base hits and 11 RBI, and has the ability to control the bat well.

In right field, Morley is expected to see the majority of the starting time. Another player with a very strong arm, she has shown great improvement in her hitting, and will be challenged to see if her hitting has caught up with her arm and her fielding. "She has really worked hard in the off-season to improve in the offensive part of the game," said Houck. Morley hit .222 with seven RBI last season, but will be expected to improve those numbers in 2008.

Senior co-captain Kaleigh Driscoll will play in right field when Morley shifts to catcher, and may also see action in left field as well. Driscoll hit .226 last season, and has seen her hitting improve during fall workouts; defensively, she has a strong arm coupled with good footwork.

Sophomore Nicole Fronczkowski gives Juniata another option in the outfield, and has continued to develop in all facets of the game through the fall of her second season on the squad.

SCHEDULE: Juniata moves into the new Landmark Conference in 2008 - a league that will feature a few familiar faces, as Moravian College and Susquehanna University join the Eagles in the new conference. Among the new league rivals, Catholic University and the United States Merchant Marine Academy are expected to be the preeminent challengers for the league title. Drew University and the University of Scranton round out the new Landmark Conference. The top four finishers in the regular season will advance to the Landmark Conference Softball Tournament, held May 2-3, 2008, in a double-elimination format at the site of the highest seed.


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