HYDE — Coach Bob Lewis is banking on a pair of seniors with five total letters and four returning underclassmen starters to lead his second Clearfield Area High School softball team to a turnaround season.
The Lady Bison fell short of his projections last spring, finishing 5-13 with a 2-11 Mountain League record, but he’s confident the 2014 squad will be much improved with reachable goals.
“We want to be above .500 and qualify for the postseason,” Lewis said.
He added, “We want to win the league, too, but we play a tremendous schedule.”
Long range, the Lady Bison would like to get back to the District 9 Class AAA championship game, which provides an opportunity to advance into the state tournament.
All of that hinges on a solid season in the circle by Rachel Hoffman, more productive and potent hitting, and a stingier defense which will be anchored by Megan Vanderburgh at shortstop.
Hoffman will get the bulk of the starts after sharing them the last three seasons with Heather Picard, now pitching for Mount Aloysius College.
The hard-throwing right-hander slipped to 2-7 with a 4.71 earned run average in 2013 after 6-2 and 7-3 records her freshman and sophomore seasons. In 30 career appearances, including 22 complete games in 28 starts, Hoffman has racked up 226 strikeouts in 177.1 innings. She’s walked 62 batters, hit 11 and allowed 80 earned runs for a 3.16 ERA.
“She wants to be good and she’s put in the hours,” Lewis said. “She’s a hard worker, always doing the extra stuff. She‘s really stepped up.
“She knows how important this year is for her and the other seniors.”
Lewis expects Raeleigh Redden, a sophomore with one win and a 2.33 ERA in two appearances last season, to be an effective change-of-pace as the No. 2 hurler when called upon.
Hoffman, who will play center field when not pitching, also will be counted on to wield a big bat.
She and classmate Vanderburgh were the only regulars who hit better than .245 last year when the Lady Bison wound up with a .222 average, including only 16 extra base hits, and scored more than two runs in only seven games.
The 2014 co-captains accounted for 41 percent of the 102 hits and scored 37 percent of the 56 runs.
Hoffman was 24-for-54 for a .444 average that raised her career mark to .400 (76-for-190). She belted three of the Lady Bison’s four home runs to pad her total to 13 but drove in only six runs after chasing home 40 teammates the previous two seasons.
In her role as the leadoff batter, Vanderburgh had 18 hits and a .310 average with eight RBIs, tying for the team lead. She also stole eight bases in as many attempts.
Teaming with her for the inner defense most of the time will be Redden at second base and incumbents Victoria Ireland (.222, six hits) at first base and twin sister Devynn Ireland (.245, 13 hits) at third base. Victoria was in the starting lineup eight times while Devynn settled in at the hot corner late in the season after getting starts behind the plate, in left field and as the designated player.
When Redden steps into the circle, sophomore returnee Lauren Butler will move from left field to fill the position she held down last season.
Senior Samantha Foster, sophomore Sierra Jones or freshman Molly Sartin are in the mix at the hot corner if Devynn Ireland shifts behind the plate, as all four can be utilized at both spots.
Jones has bolstered the catching corps after missing last year because of an injury.
“She’s very quick, very mobile and has a strong arm,” Lewis said. “She’s exactly what we needed.”
Junior letterwinner Macala Leigey returns in right field, with soph Karlie Lewis the fly chaser between her and Butler. Lewis will shift to left when Hoffman roams center field.
Junior Olivia Smith can play in left or right.
“”I think we, potentially, have an opportunity to be a sound defensive team,” Lewis said. “We’ve shuffled some people around to fill in the gaps from last year, but there are a few untested people we’ve put in the lineup.”
Senior Taylor Luzier will swing the bat as the designated player as Lewis hopes to see the Lady Bison take some pressure off Hoffman and Redden with more run support.
“We’ve got to improve offensively, and I think we’ve taken the necessary steps to do that,” Lewis said. “We had a lot of girls play summer ball and a lot also spent many, many hours in the (batting) cages that we did not have at our disposal last year.
“Girls who weren’t playing winter sports have taken advantage on their own. It was nice to see many of them to come into the building in December and spend a couple hours in the cages, because that’s where it starts, at the voluntary workouts.”
Like all other diamond teams in the region, the Lady Bison have spent the majority of their practice hours inside because of the winter weather. They have been able to work out on the football field’s artificial turf three times.
“That’s been an added bonus,” Lewis said. “So far, we’ve had two and a half very, very good weeks of practice. The kids have really worked hard, but we won’t know until we play some games how everything is gonna transpire.”
Clearfield will begin its endeavor to record the first winning season since 2008 with a trip to Martinsburg to take on Central Monday and will play two more road games next week, weather permitting.
League games alone make the schedule challenging for the Lady Bison as six of the other seven teams competed in District 6 Playoffs a year ago.
Bellefonte was the runner-up in Class AAA while Philipsburg-Osceola won the championship in Class AA with Huntingdon reaching the semifinals and Penns Valley ousting Central and Bald Eagle Area also losing in the first round.
Non-league opponents include District 6 Class AAA champ Hollidaysburg, District 6 Class AAAA runner-up Central Mountain and District 9 Class AAA runner-up Punxsutawney.
Picard departed the program with a deceiving 18-28 record after four years as a starting pitcher, half of the wins registered when she was a freshman. She pitched 287.1 innings with a 3.56 ERA and logged 259 strikeouts with 83 walks.
Outfielder Mikayla Ebeling also was a four-year letterwinner, while catcher-first baseman Lucy Kovalick earned three letters.
Fred Redden and volunteer Todd Vanderburgh will be assisting Lewis with the varsity team for the second year. Holly Komonzi is the new junior varsity coach.
The 2014 Lady Bison roster, with (*) designating letterwinner:
Seniors - Samantha Foster, c, 3b; Rachel Hoffman (*), p, cf; Taylor Luzier, of; Megan Vanderburgh (*), ss.
Juniors - Macala Leigey (*), of; Olivia Smith, of; Abby Snyder, 2b, ss.
Sophomores - Lauren Butler (*), 2b, of; Bethany Foster, 3b, of; Devynn Ireland (*), 3b, c; Victoria Ireland (*), 1b; Sierra Jones, c; Karlie Lewis, of; Raeleigh Redden, p, 2b; Breanna Wisor, of.
Freshmen - Maci Coleman, 2b, p; Justina Gaylor, of, 2b; Leah Mestrine, of; Brittani Priester, 1b, p; Molly Sartin, c, 3b.
* * * * *
The schedule, with (ML) for Mountain League games, home games in capitals and all games at 4:30 p.m. unless noted:
24 – at Central (ML); 25 – at Central Mountain; 27 – at Huntingdon (ML).
1 – BALD EAGLE AREA (ML); 4 – BELLEFONTE (ML); 7 – at Tyrone (ML); 10 – PENNS VALLEY (ML); 14 – Brookville; 16 – PHILIPSBURG-OSCEOLA (ML); 17 – CENTRAL (ML; 22 – HUNTINGDON (ML); 23 – at Bradford, 4:15 p.m.; 24 – at Bald Eagle Area (ML); 29 – at Bellefonte (ML).
1 – PUNXSUTAWNEY; 2 – TYRONE (ML); 5 – at Penns Valley (ML); 8 – at Philipsburg-Osceola (ML); 13 – ALTOONA; 15 – at Hollidaysburg.