|Eastwood softball seeks title repeat (03-26-13)|
|Written by KEVIN GORDON Sentinel Assistant Sports Editor|
|Tuesday, 26 March 2013 12:09|
LUCKEY - Eastwood's softball team isn't satisfied.
Instead, the Eagles are just as hungry and just as driven as last season.
They're striving for back-to-back Northern Buckeye Conference championships.
Eastwood returns seven starters from last season when it was 24-4 overall and 12-2 in the conference.
"We're working hard and really pushing ourselves to be even better than last year," said senior pitcher Whitney Foster, one of the Eagles' returning starters. "Just because we won it last year doesn't mean we're going to win it again. We still have to go out there and play well every game because the competition is very good."
Even though Eastwood returns seven starters, it was only third in the NBC coaches poll. Otsego was the favorite with 54 points, followed by Elmwood with 51 and Eastwood had 46. Otsego had three first-place votes, while Elmwood and Eastwood each had two.
"We have a target on our back, but that makes us play better and pushes us to work harder and improve because we want to stay on top," said senior Emily Helm, who returns in right field.
The Eagles' league title last season was their first since 2009.
"We're working even harder than we did last year because we lost some pretty key players," Helm said. "We still have most of our team returning, but we want to win the league again this year. We're not happy to only win it once.
"We know we have to compete in every game to be successful," Helm added. "We can't take anything for granted."
Foster returns after going 21-3 with a 0.95 earned-run average last season. The right-hander struck out 135 and walked just 28 in 162 innings, while allowing 128 hits and 22 earned runs.
The infield returns senior Jessica Young at second and junior Cassidy Rolf at third. Also returning are junior Anna Rahrig and senior Diana Bushman. They're vying for the catching spot and the one who doesn't catch probably will play first base. Senior Ally Gabel returns in center field.
"It really helps our confidence to know that we have a pitcher like Whitney and a good defense," Helm said. "We know we're going into be every game. We know we don't have a to score a lot of runs to be successful."
The Eagles still must find a shortstop and left fielder.
The shortstop is expected to be freshman MacKenzie Albright or sophomore Krista Jennings. The one who doesn't play short could play left, along with juniors Marissa Tudor and Michaela Bunge, and senior Morgan Corns.
"We'll be solid defensively," Eastwood coach Joe Wyant said. "We were very good defensively last year. That was one of our strongest points. We'll be a very good team defensively again, but it might take some time. We have some growing to do and we have some players switching positions in addition to the players who are back."
The Eagles, who battled .324 last season, also have to replace three key offensive players.
Hannah Hirzel hit .350 with 30 runs scored and 18 runs battled in. She batted in the leadoff position. Courtney Rolf batted .289 with 25 RBI, while Saige Smith scored 23 runs.
"We have a lot to replace," Wyant said. "Hopefully, each starter is a little bit better than last year and the new players can contribute."
Cassidy Rolf led the Eagles with a .466 average last season. She had 35 RBI and 17 extra-base hits. Gabel batted .414, while Foster hit .363. Gabel and Foster both had 23 RBI.
"We have to be able to score," Wyant added. "If you can score four runs a game, you should win 90 percent of your games with a decent pitcher and solid defense."
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