HYDE — A new era in Clearfield Area High School softball history will be launched as soon as overdue spring weather finally arrives in the region.
Bob Lewis, a 1989 Moshannon Valley graduate, has taken the reins of the Lady Bison program from Bob Dixon, who stepped down after the 2012 season with a 72-67 record and four District 9 Class AAA title game appearances in seven years.
Lewis, whose coaching experience includes a dozen years with Junior Olympic teams and two seasons with the Moshannon Valley junior varsity, welcomed two other newcomers to the varsity staff, Fred Redden and Laurie Crisafulli.
Attaining the first winning record since 2008 and returning to the district championship game are reasonable goals established by that trio and returning volunteer assistant Todd Vanderburgh.
Lewis believes the Lady Bison have a realistic shot at finishing with a win total in the teens after hovering around .500 the last three seasons.
“Our conference (Mountain League) is so darn tough there are going to be times when you don’t have things go your way,” he said. “We need to win the games we’re supposed to win.”
Hopefully, the Lady Bison then would be poised to play for the district crown, which has been claimed by Punxsutawney every year since Clearfield reigned in 2007.
“We want to be in position where one win will get us in the state playoffs,” Lewis said.
He’s counting on six letterwinners inherited from last year’s 10-11 team that lost a 3-2 heart-breaker to St. Marys in the district semifinals to restore Clearfield’s winning tradition.
The returnees are seniors Mikayla Ebeling, Lucy Kovalick and Heather Picard, juniors Rachel Hoffman and Megan Vanderburgh and sophomore Janelle Wallace.
They own a dozen letters, Ebeling and Picard with three apiece and Kovalick and Hoffman with two apiece.
Lewis was quick to cite the pitching of Picard and Hoffman as the Lady Bison’s key strength.
“You’re looking at five years of varsity pitching,” he said.
The two right-handers alternated starts and recorded all but two of the outs in the last two seasons.
Hoffman was 7-3 with a 2.00 earned run average and 89 strikeouts in 70 innings last spring on the heels of a rookie season with a 6-2 record, 3.47 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 55.1 innings. She’s allowed a total of 99 hits and 44 walks.
Dixon handed the ball to Picard her freshman year, and she responded with a 9-6 record and 2.91 ERA in 15 starts, including a tough 4-2 loss to Punxsy in Clearfield’s last trip to the district finals.
Defeats like that one, in which all of Punxsy’s runs were unearned, are reasons why Picard’s career record is a deceiving 16-22, for she has produced a 3.53 ERA with 199 strikeouts and only 66 walks in 230.1 innings of work in the circle.
Lewis expects to give freshman Raileigh Redden some innings, too.
“She’s capable, but she needs experience, and we want to get her some this year,” he said.
Four of the returnees will be playing different positions in the field, Hoffman shifting from the outfield to first base or second base when not pitching, Kovalick moving to third base after 16 games behind the plate and five at first base last year, Vanderburgh sliding from third base to shortstop and Ebeling moving from right field to center field.
A potent bat makes Hoffman a must start. Her 52 hits the last two seasons for a .382 average include 10 doubles, two triples and 10 home runs. She led the 2012 Lady Bison with 29 safeties, the majority coming during a 15-game hitting streak, and was second to star centerfielder B.J. Bowman in average (.397), RBIs (17) and runs (15). She enters the season with 40 career RBIs.
Kovalick has 19 hits and 10 RBIs, while Ebeling has a career mark of .283 with 32 hits and 12 RBIs.
Wallace, who hit .304 in 10 games with starts at catcher, third base and left field, gets the nod to handle the catching duties. She’s backed by freshmen Devynn Ireland. Kovalick could don the mask in a pinch, according to Lewis.
The right side of the infield will depend on who is pitching, with two freshmen, first baseman Victoria Ireland and second baseman Lauren Butler, in the mix with Hoffman and Picard. Butler also will be the back-up at shortstop.
Flanking Ebeling will be soph Macala Leigey and freshman Vanessa Goodrow. Wallace and soph Olivia Smith also could see action as corner outfielders.
Clearfield will have a very flexible varsity roster during the season.
“We could have 10 or 12 girls filling in the last five or six spots,” Lewis said. “They’re going to be rotating in and out. It’s definitely going to hinge on who’s pitching. The whole complexion of the lineup will depend on whether Picard or Hoffman is pitching.
“It’s a pretty versatile group. Some girls can play several positions, that’s what we’re trying to preach to them.”
Lewis expects his two hurlers to keep games close, so manufacturing runs and playing sound defense will be crucial.
“It’s a matter of can we generate enough offense and not give the other teams too many outs,” he said. “We have some pretty good team speed, so we’re gonna try to be more aggressive on the basepaths and put a little more pressure on defenses.
“Defensively, when the ball is put in play, we’ve got to be able to react. Errors are part of the game, but we’ve got to minimize them.”
Improving on 4-6 and 4-4 records in their first two Mountain League campaigns will figure significantly in the Lady Bison’s success.
The league has undergone changes for the second year in a row with Central Mountain and Juniata departing, leaving eight teams to play home-and-home series for a 14-game schedule.
Philipsburg-Osceola, Bald Eagle Area and Bellefonte have been perennial contenders for the title, and Central climbed into the upper echelon last year, making a run to the PIAA semifinals after losing to P-O in the District 6 Class AA finals. BEA was knocked out by Central in the semis after years of battling P-O for the district crown. And Bellefonte continued to dominate in District 6 Class AAA. All of the D-6 qualifiers were eliminated by the eventual state champs.
Two other Mountain League teams also competed in the 2012 Distric6 Playoffs, Huntingdon in Class AAA and Penns Valley in Class AA.
District 9 Class AAA rivals Punxsy and St. Marys top the non-league card that includes Brookville, Bradford, Altoona and Hollidaysburg.
Clearfield is scheduled to host Central and Huntingdon next week, but both are likely to be postponed because of present field conditions and the forecasts for more inclement weather.
See letterwinner and team photo here: http://www.ladybisonsports.org/lbsSBallF2.html
The Lady Bison roster, with (*) designating letterwinner:
Seniors – Mikayla Ebeling (*), cf; Lucy Kovalick (*), c, 3b; Heather Picard (*), p, 2b.
Juniors – Samantha Foster, 3b; Rachel Hoffman (*), p, 1b, 2b; Taylor Humberson, 1b; Leah Lundberg, p, of; Taylor Luzier, of; Rachel Stucke, of; Megan Vanderburgh (*), ss.
Sophomores – Macala Leigey, of; Maria Ruez, of; Olivia Smith, of; Abby Snyder, 2b; Janelle Wallace (*), c, of.
Freshmen – Lauren Butler, ss, 2b; Josie Eamigh, 3b; Bethany Foster, of; Vanessa Goodrow, of; Devynn Ireland, c; Victoria Ireland, 1b; Karlie Lewis, 1b, p; Raileigh Redden, 2b, p.
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The schedule, with home games in capitals and (ML) for Mountain League games:
(All games at 4:30 p.m. unless noted)
25 – CENTRAL (ML); 28 – HUNTINGDON (ML).
3 – at Bald Eagle Area (ML); 5 – at Bellefonte (ML); 8 – BRADFORD; 9 – TYRONE (ML); 12 – at Penns Valley (ML); 15 – at Philipsburg-Osceola (ML); 16 – at Brookville, 4:15 p.m.; 18 – at Central (ML; 23 – at Huntingdon (ML); 26 – BALD EAGLE AREA (ML); 29 – BELLEFONTE (ML).
1 – at Punxsutawney, 4:15 p.m.; 2 – at TYRONE (ML); 6 – PENNS VALLEY (ML); 7 – ST. MARYS; 9 – PHILIPSBURG-OSCEOLA (ML); 14 – at Altoona; 16 – HOLLIDAYSBURG.