HYDE — After watching his first two Clearfield Area High School softball teams struggle for wins, coach Bob Lewis is hoping the 2015 Lady Bison will enjoy a breakout season with experience and more team speed two reasons for his optimism.
The Lady Bison still are young with Macala Leigey the lone senior, but the right fielder and seven other letterwinners will provide a solid nucleus.
Like Leigey, juniors Lauren Butler and Devynn and Victoria Ireland own two monograms.
Juniors Sierra Jones, Karlie Lewis and Raeleigh Redden and sophomore Molly Sartin are the other returnees from a 7-13 team that lost 3-2 to Punxsutawney in the District 9 Class AAA semifinals.
“We’re looking to eclipse .500,” Lewis said, conceding that a schedule loaded with 2014 playoff teams will make that no easy task. “And we want to do better in the playoffs. We walked up to our trophy case at the beginning of the year, and the last time we had a District 9 trophy in there was 2007.
“We want to build on what we did last year. After that experience, we want more. We’re not satisfied with just getting into the playoffs. We want to get there and win games.
“Ultimately, we want the District 9 title, but it‘s a process. It’s a matter of instilling in them that our program is getting better. I think the kids realize that and have set their goals higher.”
One big key for the Lady Bison to break into double figures in wins is offense.
While the team batting average jumped 60 points to .282 last spring, Clearfield was shut out two times and scored only one or two runs in nine other games.
And the three big guns picked up their diplomas.
Pitcher-center fielder Rachel Hoffman (.526), shortstop Megan Vanderburgh (.448) and designated player Taylor Luzier (.344) combined for 27 of the Lady Bison’s 36 extra base hits and 45 of their runs batted in.
Hoffman has made three starts and was the designated player in another game for the first-year Pitt-Johnstown team, while Vanderburgh is the leadoff batter and leading hitter for Shenandoah (Va.) College.
They capped their outstanding careers with 30 hits apiece, Hoffman belting five home runs, six triples and six doubles and Vanderburgh socking two homers, two triples and four doubles. They had 24 and 14 RBIs, respectively.
Butler exhibited marked improvement at the plate last season and finished right at .300 with 18 hits. She had seven RBIs.
Redden (.271, 6 RBIs), Devon Ireland (.250, 6 RBIs) and Lewis (.240) are the only other returnees who hit higher than .162 though.
“We’ve gotta produce more runs, and our focus is more on being consistent in our hitting,” coach Lewis said. “We have to be more balanced up and down the lineup and not just rely on a couple of people.”
Better speed will mean the Lady Bison can be more aggressive on the bases, too.
“We’re working on our small ball game and doing the little things a lot better,” Lewis said. “We’re the fastest we’ve been in my three years. Our speed is dramatically improved because a lot of girls were really active in the off season. Some are multi-sport athletes and the other kids were working out on their own.”
Nothing impacts softball games more than pitching, though, and Lewis is counting on Redden to work the majority of the innings as Hoffman’s successor in the circle.
Hoffman was 5-11 with a 4.33 earned run average and a 106-42 strikeout-walk ratio in 93.2 innings last year. She was 20-23 with a 3.56 ERA and 332 strikeouts in 271 innings during her four-year career.
Lewis is confident Redden is ready to step into the No. 1 role after pitching in two games as a freshman and eight as a sophomore. She was 2-2 with a 7.88 ERA in eight starts last year, completing three of her five starts and fanning 20 in 28 innings.
“Raeleigh’s a very dedicated girl and she’s worked around the clock,” Lewis said. “She’s stronger and quicker and becoming more of a pitcher and less a thrower.”
His daughter Karlie will be the No. 2 starter, and he didn’t rule out the possibility of allocating a few innings to freshmen Aspen Bishop, Abby Fedder and Erica Hanes.
“Raeleigh and Karlie threw a pile of games in summer ball and worked on technique and mechanics in the fall,” coach Lewis said. “And they did really well in the scrimmage we had.”
With catcher Devynn Ireland not available because of surgery, freshman Nikki Brossard has seized the opportunity to become the starter. Classmate Myra Kavelak will be the backup.
“Nikki has a strong arm and is very mobile behind the plate,” Lewis said.
Another freshman, Brooke Cline, will replace Vanderburgh at shortstop.
“She’s one of the better athletes on the team and has great range,” Lewis said. “It’s a position she’s only going to get better and better at. We’re working on her arm strength, but she can make plays. I’m confident in her.”
Victoria Ireland and sophomore Brittani Priester will share the first base job, while the other two infield positions are set with Butler back for her third season at second base and Jones returning at third base.
“Butler has been pretty rock-solid, and she came along pretty good as a hitter,” Lewis said. “Jones caught the first game last year and I could tell she wasn’t comfortable. So, I moved her to third and she got better and better.
“Victoria and Brittani will get significant playing time at first base or as the extra hitter.”
The outfield also is set with Sartin in left, Lewis in center and Leigey in right.
Bishop is certain to see action in any of those positions, but coach Lewis prefers having her and other promising freshmen with the junior varsity to begin the season.
“Junior high to varsity is a big jump, and they need a little time to adjust and get the feel of what it’s like at this level,” Lewis explained. “It’s just a different speed. They need more repetitions, especially hitting.
“That’s what I did with our juniors in my first year. We groomed them on jayvees and, when the moment was right, brought them up and they performed.”
To achieve their preseason goals, the Lady Bison will have to negotiate a very tough schedule that includes nine teams which participated in District 6 or District 9 playoffs last season.
Five are D-6 foes in the always-competitive Mountain League, including Class AAA champion Bellefonte and Class AA finalists Bald Eagle Area and Philipsburg-Osceola. BEA beat P-O 5-4 in the district finals and again 7-3 in the PIAA semifinals.
Penns Valley and Central were the other ML teams in the postseason.
Clearfield’s non-league opponents that entered 2014 playoffs are Punxsutawney (D-9-AAA), Curwensville (D-9-AA), Altoona (D-6-AAAA) and Hollidaysburg (D-6-AAA).
Backyard rival Curwensville returns to the schedule and Glendale is a newcomer as they replace Brookville and Central Mountain.
The Lady Bison, who have yet to practice outside except for one day on the high school parking lot, will travel to Martinsburg Monday for their opener.
Lewis’ assistant coaches are Fred Redden and volunteers Todd Vanderburgh and Jeff Kavelak, who also helps the junior varsity.
Holly Komonzi is the JV coach with Sandy Bailor and volunteer Jonathan Bloom her first-year assistants.
The 2015 Lady Bison roster, with (*) designating letterwinner:
Seniors – Macala Leigey (*), rf.
Juniors – Lauren Butler (*), 2b; Devynn Ireland (*), c, eh; Victoria Ireland (*), 1b, eh; Sierra Jones (*), 3b; Karlie Lewis (*), cf, p; Raeleigh Redden (*), p.
Sophomores – Maci Coleman, 2b, p; Brittani Priester, 1b, eh; Molly Sartin (*), lf.
Freshmen – Aspen Bishop of, p; Nikki Brossard, c; Brooke Cline, ss; Abby Fedder 3b, p; Erica Hanes, ss, p; Lindsey Hand, 2b; Myra Kavelak, c; Alana Kochan, 2b, p; Kate Lansberry 1b, eh; Kirstin Norman of; Makayla Ross, 1b, 3b; Marissa Sunderland, of.
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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); 27 – HUNTINGDON (ML); 30 – BELLEFONTE (ML).
2 – at Tyrone (ML); 7 – BALD EAGLE AREA (ML); 10 – at Penns Valley (ML); 13 – PHILIPSBURG-OSCEOLA (ML); 16 – CENTRAL (ML; 20 – CURWENSVILLE; 21 – at Huntingdon (ML); 23 – at Bellefonte (ML); 27 – TYRONE (ML); 30 – at Bald Eagle Area (ML).
1 – at Punxsutawney, 4:15 p.m.; 4 – at Glendale; 5 – at Penns Valley (ML); 8 – at Philipsburg-Osceola (ML); 11 – HOLLIDAYSBURG; 12 – at Altoona; 14 – BRADFORD.