When the Poland softball team lost by one run in the state championship last spring the amount of disappointment felt among the girls was immeasurable.
Most of Poland’s best players were returning this season, however, so the time for sorrow was short. If their opening day against Struthers on March 29 was any evidence then a return trip to the title game could be in the offing for the Lady Bulldogs. Poland got near perfect pitching from incredible Erin Gabriel, a one hit shutout, as the Bulldogs beat up the Wildcats 10-0.
“We played well the first game out of the block,” said head coach Reid Lamport over his cell phone.
Poland is expected to play so well this year that they were ranked number 17 in the nation by Max Preps internet website a few days before the season started. Having that high ranking is special, but keeping it will make coach Lamport happier.
“It was nice to get the national ranking,” said the coach, “but last year was last year. We must continue to improve and keep the good habits we have. “
The best habit Lamport has this season is continuously calling on Gabriel and Jenna Modic to take the pitching circle. The two first team all-state selections can silence an opposing offense on back-to-back days and offer a luxury that few head coaches possess.
“Those two speak for themselves,” said Lamport in respect to Gabriel and Modic. “It all starts in the pitching circle no matter the level of softball you are playing.”
While that dynamic duo steals a lot of the headlines there are other Lady Bulldogs who bring a ton of talent to this championship caliber club. The leader of that bunch is power-hitting outfielder Adrianna Sikora who will help make up the middle of Lamport’s lineup with Gabriel and Modic (who mashed three hits against Struthers).
“(Sikora) is a great player,” said Lamport succinctly.
While that trio will be tearing the cover off the ball all spring, Lamport got a good look at the rest of his lineup in his team’s taming of the Wildcats and he liked what he saw.
“We hit well from 1 through 9,” he said elatedly. “The 8-hole hitter had five RBIs and the seven and nine hitters hit really well. Our offense must back our pitching. If the back end does what they did on Tuesday we will be in great shape.”
The eighth place hitter Lamport referenced was senior outfielder Chelsey McCree who had two hits to go along with her five ribbies. Middle infielder Emily Chandler hit above .300 as a sophomore and began her junior year with two hits and two RBIs.
“The bottom of the order really built some confidence (in the first game),” said Lamport.
Maura Bobby will be placed at the top of Poland’s order and she will be counted on heavily to get on base in front of the big Bulldog bashers. Kalie Benson is a shortstop who banged the ball well over the first half of 2010 and will be expected to put in a full year of collecting hits in 2011. First baseman Taylor Mikovich should see her share of diamond time and, although she is only a freshman, coach Lamport expects marvelous things from her. Then there is sophomore catcher and number six-hitter Meredith Testa who will be put to the test as a starting catcher. Not only will Testa be needed to knock in any runs the big three leave on base, but she has the duty of keeping the two All Star pitchers comfortable on the bump.
“(Testa) should handle Erin and Jenna well,” Lamport said confidently. “She will help with defense as well as offense. She is one of our best athletes. I like what I see from her.”
Another trio of sophomores who have been a great sight for Lamport’s eyes in practice are outfielders Meredith Tesone and Marissa Trevis and infielder Anna Barnhart. All three may start at some point this season leaving Lamport with incredible depth.
“I’m excited about this core of girls,” he said. “They are a close knit group. We have set lofty goals and they challenge each other to reach those goals.”
One setback of having such lofty aspirations is that it usually is married to having a grueling schedule. With league games against Canfield, Niles and Howland on the horizon one would think that is enough to challenge the Bulldogs. Yet, there are non conference tilts with former state champions Solon, Massillon Perry and Walsh Jesuit as well as meeting with one of the best teams from Chicago highlighting Poland’s out of conference slate. At least these Poland girls are used to those kinds of opponents.
“We took 30 wins to the state title game against a tough schedule (last year) and our schedule is stronger this year,” Lamport announced.
Hopefully, all of the Bulldogs’ big battles prepare them to get over the final hump in 2011. Losing like they did last year was painful, but this year may be totally different.
“We are not dwelling on that last game,” said Lamport. “We can use it as motivation, but we have a lot of things to accomplish before we reach that point again.”