Fitch’s softball program took a hit in the offseason when five talented seniors walked across the stage to receive their diplomas last June.
Thankfully for the Lady Falcons, there is still great anticipation for the upcoming season because a sextet of returning letterwinners will take the field when Fitch opens the season on March 31 versus Ravenna. Leading that six-pack of returning Falcons are seniors and, more importantly, best friends Amanda Callahan and Carly Ortz. Callahan will be called upon often by head coach Melody Rice to win games from the pitching circle. Callahan has gained extensive outside experience pitching in such prestigious tournaments like the Queen of Diamonds Showcase and being a member of the Valley Extreme traveling team. Coach Rice hopes those escapades as an underclassman translates into enormous senior season success.
“We look to Amanda to carry our team as our starting pitcher,” Rice wrote in an email. “She is a vocal leader and the team is confident when she is on the mound. She has picked up speed, accuracy and confidence as she begins her senior season. We also look to see Amanda utilizing her speed on the bases as she is quite easily the fastest runner on our team. “
Ortz may not possess the running prowess of her BFF, but she sure does have a knack for cutting down an opponent’s running game.
“I can say confidently that Carly Ortz has the strongest arm in the state of Ohio,” Rice bragged. “We will put that arm to the test for anyone who attempts to steal second. Carly is poised and confident behind the plate and we suspect that Carly will have a dynamite season at the plate as well.”
Ortz has had the ability in the past to put the team on her shoulders offensively and to gather those clutch extra base hits. She has done enough both offensively and defensively in previous seasons to play in underclassmen tournaments and to be selected first team All-Federal League and second team All-District. Together, Callahan and Ortz make a winning pair for the Lady Falcons.
“Amanda and Carly have played together since their Little League days and they have been our solid pitcher and catcher for the past four years,” Rice wrote.
If that dynamic duo is the leaders on the field for Fitch then junior Megan Carney has to undoubtedly be the spiritual leader of the Falcons. One year removed from a gruesome ACL injury, Carney comes back to claim her rightful spot in the Fitch outfield. Carney was second team All-Federal League as a freshman when she hit above .400. Carney proved that she is ready to jump up as a junior, because she has already earned MVP honors at the Queen of Diamonds this past January.
“(Carney) has a hunger and desire to get back into the game,” exclaimed Rice. “Getting that MVP award was an amazing feat and a great honor for Megan and our program. We are proud of Megan as she has set a great example for our team on how to overcome adversity.”
Juniors Tori Wise and Brianna Banko and sophomore Alana Callahan are three other Fitch girls who earned their stripes last spring and will be looked upon to enhance the Falcons’ chances this year.
“Wise will have a more pivotal role this year stepping in as a first basemen and pitcher,” Rice explained. “She has worked extremely hard in the offseason to improve her speed, movement and accuracy as a pitcher. We also expect Tori to make an impact offensively offering her power in the three or four spot.”
Rice then commented on her expectations for Banko and Callahan.
“We look to Brianna to be a leader in the outfield and help this team develop into fierce competitors,” said Rice. “We look to her to continue to hit around .300 and continue to come up with clutch hits and RBIs. Callahan was a solid performer for us at third base making unbelievable plays and freezing runners with her strong arm. We also plan to utilize her speed and smart base-running skills.”
Like her sister and Carney, the younger Callahan was also chosen to play in the Queen of Diamonds Tournament and will be a member of a 2012 touring team overseas this summer.
Rounding out Rice’s lineup will be junior Marissa Mraz who will step into a “major role” in the outfield according to her coach, sophomore infielder/outfielder Mackinzee Barnes and freshmen Alex Corradi and Cali Mikovich who should see plenty of time in the middle of the infield.
One area of this year’s Fitch outfit that is different than past years is in the amount of depth on the roster. Young players such as Miranda Defuria, Mercedes Pratt, Christine Holmes, Kaitlyn Pugh, Marie Bishop and Mariah Defuria could all see significant softball time this spring. With all of those players eager to aid in Fitch’s cause it is no wonder why coach Rice expects her kids can catapult to uncharted heights in 2011.
“Last season was our first winning season since 2005,” stated the coach. “The girls have had a taste of winning and now they want more. Simply put our goals are to be in the top half of the Federal League and to make the district title game.”
Getting to that first goal may be a hard one to achieve especially considering this will be Fitch’s final tour around the Federal League before becoming a member of the All American Conference in 2012. Boardman is a top five team in the state and North Canton Hoover, Massillon Perry and Massillon Jackson will also provide large road blocks as well. Yet, with Callahan causing havoc for opposing offenses from the pitching circle, perhaps Fitch can capture some of the low scoring games that eluded them last season and make this last Federal season a memorable one.
“Many of the games last year were decided by one or two runs so we look to improve on those and win those close games,” Ward said assuredly.