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Softball Preview 2012

4/9/2012 —



Fresh from a seven-game, preseason swing through Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the Penn State New Kensington softball team and coach Mike Marsili are anxious for the regular season to get underway. The Lady Lions went 2-5 down south and were able to groove their swings and solidify their defense.

“After practicing indoors for a month and a half, it was refreshing to work on a regulation-size field,” said Marsili, beginning his fourth year at the campus. “The trip built confidence in the players and developed team unity. Plus we had a chance to see what areas needed additional work before starting the season.”

According to Marsili, the keys to the season are good pitching, strong defense, and clutch hitting. Excellent team speed complements both the defense and offense.

“Defensively, with our overall speed, we can turn potential hits into outs,” said Marsili, who reconstituted the dormant softball program in 2009.  “Offensively, we can hit-and-run, steal, and take that extra base which puts pressure on our opponents' defense.”

With a blend of savvy veterans and talented newcomers, Marsilli is expecting the team to make a run at the conference title. The coach has been building toward the championship ever since he took over the program in 2009. His first team went 0-14 in the Penn State University Athletic Conference. Last year, the team went 6-6 and just missed the conference playoffs.

“I believe that we can play with anyone in the conference,’ said Marsili, a resident of Vandergrift. “With our pitching, we should be in every game with a chance to win it at the end.”

A veteran infield and pitching staff will be the backbone of the team. Heading the list of returnees is sophomore pitcher Jenna Swank (Ford City High School) who is equally adept at third base and at the plate. She will be the ace of the staff and provide power in the middle of the line-up. In Myrtle Beach, she batted .363 with three doubles and two RBI. Junior first baseman Katie Colbert (Fox Chapel) is a three-year starter with a deft touch around the bag. Colbert was second in fielding percentage in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association.

“Jenna is a very good hitter and will play third when not on the mound,” Marsili said. “Katie has good speed and makes good contact at the plate.”

Sophomore second baseman Sarah Kutchko (Deer Lakes) has great hands and is blossoming into a team leader. With a good glove and a strong arm, sophomore shortstop Bridget Fisher (Burrell) makes the team solid up the middle. She also will be utilized as a relief pitcher.

“Sarah improved as the season progressed last year so she is much more confident going into this season," Marsili said. “Bridget can come in and throw strikes when we need it.”

Newcomers will patrol the outfield and handle the catching duties, as well as share pitching and third base responsibilities. Sophomore Tara Oravec (Kiski Area) will swap positions with Swank throughout the season. When one is pitching, the other will be at the hot corner. Oravec, who can also play the outfield,  hits for power and average. In the preseason, she batted .416 with a home run, three doubles and five RBI.

“Tara is a strong hitte,r and she has deceptive speed,” Marsili said. “On the mound, she throws hard and is working on a good change-up.”

Freshman Brooke Churma (Kiski Area) takes over centerfield, and her exceptional speed can run down hits in the gap and keep opposing runners from taking the extra base. Freshman Korie Krull (Langley) is slated for left field, and she will do some pitching. At the plate, both can move runners with timely hitting.

“Brooke is a switch hitter who can slap it around or drag bunt," Marsili said. “Korie has good speed and can bunt to get on.”

Behind the plate, freshman Jessica George is getting on-the-job training. An infielder by trade, she is adapting to the position and should be steady by the season opener. Sophomore Breanna Cass (Fox Chapel) and freshman Jordan Miller (Harvest Baptist) will vie for starting positions. Cass is a good utility player who can play infield or outfield. Miller is inexperienced but makes up for it by practicing hard.

“We are long on talent but short on depth,” Marsili said. “We are strong up the middle and our speed will surprise a lot of teams. We will be bunting runners into scoring position and using our speed to get them home.”

The Lady Lions opened at home at 1 p.m., Saturday, March 31, with a PSUAC doubleheader against Penn State Scranton at Wolf Pack Park in Lower Burrell. The field, located at the intersection of Wild Life Lodge and Garvers Ferry roads, has served as home to the softball team the past four years. The 22-game schedule features 16 Penn State University Athletic Conference games and six non-conference contests.

Marsili is a former assistant coach at Kiski Area High School. He is a certified coach and conducts numerous clinics throughout the year. His assistant is Brian Eshbaugh, who was the head coach of the Lady Lions for three years, 2002-05. Eshbaugh guided New Kensington to two PSUAC championships.

For full schedule, visit http://www.nk.psu.edu/StudentLife/Athletics/39086.htm online.

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