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Penn State Altoona Softball 2013 Season Preview
2/27/2013 — The Penn State Altoona softball team had a lot to be proud of in 2012. The team’s 33 wins set a new program record. They had two different pitchers throw perfect games in a three-game span. One of their hitters was named the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference’s Newcomer of the Year and made the All-Region team. But despite these successes, the Lady Lions fell short of their ultimate goal: to win an AMCC Championship.
After making deep runs into the AMCC Tournament the past three years, Penn State Altoona softball is poised take its game to the next level and bring home a conference title. Head coach Fred Caldwell’s team returns eight players from last year’s squad, all of whom were regular contributors to the team’s success. Needless to say, optimism within the program is high.
“Although we lost several important players from last year, including our starting shortstop, an outfielder, and two pitchers, the returning players will provide a solid core of seasoned veterans to lead the team through the season and the AMCC playoffs,” said Caldwell, who enters his fourth year as the team’s head coach.
One of Caldwell’s proudest accomplishments thus far is establishing a culture of consistency within the program, something that he knows has allowed the team to be a competitive force every year.
“Consistency and experience were two factors that had been in short supply when I joined the team three seasons ago,” he explained. “We have focused on recruiting players who intend to major in programs that will keep them at Penn State Altoona for two or more years, and that strategy is beginning to pay off. This year, we have a number of upperclassmen who are familiar with our philosophy and bring invaluable experience to the team.”
Among position players, the top returner is sophomore first baseman Kelly Chambers (Snow Shoe, PA/Bald Eagle). Chambers was the AMCC’s Newcomer of the Year in 2012, earned First Team All-Conference status, and made the Third Team of the National Fastpitch Coaches Association’s All-East Region squad.
Last year, Chambers set Penn State Altoona single season records in hits (64) and doubles (19) while tying the records for home runs (10) and runs batted in (51) during an individual season. She was second in the AMCC in batting average, hitting .474.
“Kelly has continued to work very hard at improving all aspects of her game, and she will continue to be a threat at the plate,” said Caldwell. “With the success that she had last year, it’s more likely that other teams will look to pitch around her or intentionally walk her. She will have to be patient at the plate and be willing to take advantage of whatever the opposition offers.”
But the Lady Lions will not look to rely solely on Chambers to carry the load offensively. Another important returner is junior second baseman Brittany Smith (Bellefonte, PA/Bellefonte), a First Team All-Conference selection last season. Her .437 batting average was fifth-best in the AMCC. She also anchored the defense up the middle, finishing the year with a team-best .993 fielding percentage.
Three other returners who were All-Conference picks will help bolster the batting order. Junior third baseman Christina Stathes (Bellefonte, PA/Bellefonte) continued to be a middle-of-the-order threat, posting a .375 average with five home runs in 2012. Sophomore utility player Lily Glunt (Snow Shoe, PA/Bald Eagle) emerged to add some pop to the lineup in her first year, hitting six home runs and driving in 37 runs. Sophomore outfielder Alamaria Miller (Muncy, PA/Muncy) hit .386 and set a school single season record for triples with five.
Other returning position players are junior outfielder Lauren Bove (Mechanicsburg, PA/Cumberland Valley), who led the team with 16 stolen bases last year, and senior catcher Rebecca Enedy (Portage, PA/Portage), who started 21 games behind the plate in 2012.
“Hitting will once again be one of the strengths of the team in 2013,” Caldwell explained. “With seven of last year’s top nine batting averages returning, and with the addition of some very talented and powerful newcomers, the lineup should be strong and have greater depth than in the past.”
Some of the team’s freshmen include shortstop Amanda Brennan (Jefferson Hills, PA/Thomas Jefferson), shortstop/outfielder Summer Feathers (Altoona, PA/Altoona), utility player Clarissa Keller (Spring Mills, PA/Penns Valley), and middle infielder Gina Ricci (Garnet Valley, PA/Garnet Valley). Brennan is an athletic player whose great range and strong arm is well-suited to shortstop. Feathers has quick hands and can hit with power and consistency. Keller and Ricci are each versatile players who will see time at a variety of infield and outfield positions.
“This year’s group of newcomers is extremely talented and hard-working,” said Caldwell. “They continue to work hard in the batting cages and have shown great work ethic and hustle.”
Returning to lead the team’s pitching staff is senior Jackie Smith (Hollidaysburg, PA/Hollidaysburg). A Second Team All-Conference selection last year, Smith tossed the softball program’s first-ever perfect game against Hilbert College on March 31. She totaled six shutouts and 19 complete games out of 25 appearances and 22 starts. Her earned run average of 2.10 was the lowest in the AMCC, and she ranked second in the conference in wins with 16. Smith also helps her own cause at the plate, as she hit .333 last year with 25 RBIs.
Smith has been an important part of the team since her arrival. Her freshman year coincided with Caldwell’s first year as head coach, and she has been instrumental in turning the program around ever since.
“It’s not possible to overstate Jackie’s importance. She’s been a calming, steadying force on the field and someone who we can always count on in game situations,” said Caldwell. “She’s a gamer who will not accept losing, and her willingness to do what it takes to win is a quality that has led her teammates in the right direction these last three seasons.”
Three newcomers will add depth to the pitching staff. Sophomore transfer Raychel DeArmitt (Bellefonte, PA/Bellefonte) brings a year of collegiate pitching experience from playing at Penn State Berks. Freshmen Hannah Jackson (Troy, PA/Troy) and Cassondra Ross (Port Matilda, PA/Bald Eagle), as well as DeArmitt, come from successful high school programs.
Caldwell believes his team has the ingredients to break through this year and finally grab an AMCC title. With a talented group of veterans comprising the core of the team, along with a promising crop of first-year players, he thinks that Penn State Altoona can become more consistent and overcome the slumps that have plagued them in the postseason.
“More returners on our roster means more playoff experience on the team,” he said. “We’ve also made some adjustments to our routine to try and build momentum and increase productivity as we move through the season to avoid the late-season slumps we’ve experienced in the past.”
The Lady Lions open their 2013 schedule in the Fastpitch Dreams Spring Classic in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Their first game occurs on Monday, March 4 at 9:30 AM against Malone University. Penn State Altoona is scheduled to host its home opener on Wednesday, March 13 at 3:00 PM against Frostburg State University. The Lady Lions start AMCC play on the road, traveling to Franciscan University on Wednesday, March 27.
Photo: Penn State Altoona sophomore first baseman Kelly Chambers was the 2012 AMCC Newcomer of the Year.