(Posted March 1, 2004)

Huntingdon, PA ? How can there possibly be room for improvement? The 2003 Juniata College softball team shattered the school record for wins in a season, earned a spot in the conference postseason for the second time in the program?s history and broke a handful of individual school records. Yet all that success was achieved with a relatively young roster. So Juniata enters the 2004 campaign having lost just one starter from last year?s team, and with the belief that a year of success can only lead to bigger and better things for the softball program.

?After last season we now understand how to get there [the postseason],? head coach John Houck stated. ?Hopefully now the team will understand what to expect in the postseason and we can use that to go farther. They?ve had a taste of what it?s like to win and we think that will breed more success. ?

For Juniata the team?s success starts with the veteran leadership and skills provided by five senior starters. The quintet of Cassandra Dutzer (Danville/Riverside), Amy Gable (Kennard-Dale/Stewartstown), Amber Helsel (Claysburg-Kimmel/Claysburg), Becky Herr (Hamburg/Hamburg) and Sarah Patterson (Danville/Danville) have all started for Juniata since their freshman seasons and played a large role in the turnaround of the program.

Helsel and Herr are both looking to follow up outstanding junior seasons. Both players were chosen as first-team All-Conference picks as they each enjoyed career seasons both at the plate and in the field. Helsel led the team with a .426 batting average, broke the school record with 29 runs scored and tied for the team high with 40 hits. Herr led the team in homeruns and RBI while batting .372. Gable finished second on the team with a .388 average while Patterson and Dutzer played key roles offensively and defensively in 2003.

?Our seniors are just wonderful players that have a great impact on their teammates,? Houck explained. ?They have great ability, but also a great understanding of how to play the game, and that rubs off on the younger players.?

Juniata outscored its opponents 137-74 last season, and averaged better than 4.5 runs per game. Despite that success the coaching staff believes that the offense could be even better this season.

?Now that we?ve had three years working with the players, they seem more comfortable in the batter?s box? Houck said. ?As a team they have a better understanding of how to hit and how to look for specific pitches.?

As good as Juniata?s offense was last season, the strength of the Eagles may have been the team?s pitching and defense. Juniata?s three primary hurlers in 2003 were freshmen, and the Eagles still posted a team ERA of 2.55. Sophomores Renae Hobbs (Mount Union/Mount Union) and Lizzie Bartosik (Penn/Granger, In.) combined to go 14-10 with ERA?s of 1.39 and 3.20 respectively during their freshmen seasons. Juniata was also solid defensively as the team posted a fielding percentage of .965, which led the Commonwealth Conference and ranked 17th in the nation. And after graduating just two players in the past two seasons, the coaches see room for improvement in these two areas as well.

?Considering we used mainly freshmen pitchers last season, we believe they will improve,? Houck said. ?With a year of experience I expect our pitchers to have a better understanding of how to pitch. And defensively we played well despite the fact that we had players trying new positions. Now everyone is more familiar with their positions and that should lead to even stronger play.?

With a talented, experienced roster and a postseason run already under their belt, all signs are pointing to another banner year for the Juniata College softball program.

?We?ve had some good, intense practices,? Houck stated. ?Everyone on this team is excited to get out and see what we can do.?

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