It only took one game to eliminate the Fitch softball team from the Division I tournament last May.
Despite that quick exit, Fitch head coach Melody Ward has exceptional expectations heading into 2013.
"Our goal is to finish at the top of our league and to make an appearance in the district title game," wrote Ward succinctly in an email a couple weeks before the start of the regular season.
One reason for all of that optimism is the depth that Ward has on her roster. As many as 15 girls may all see varsity action this season with more than half of them returning letter winners.
Leading that contingent will be a trio of seniors who Ward will count on to lend leadership to the squad. The most famous of that Fitch triumvirate is three-year starter Alana Callahan. Callahan is a cog in the middle of Ward's batting order and is also a fantastic fielder in the outfield. After three years on the corner, Callahan will be stationed in centerfield this year.
"(Alana) is a tremendous talent that we have watched mature and grow," bragged Ward. "We are excited to show off her strong arm and quickness in centerfield. She will leave a legacy (at Fitch) and is determined to lead this team."
Katee Sweeney and Samantha Mehle are two other returning seniors who will vie to join Callahan in the starting outfield.
"We look to Katee to be a team leader too and help our younger players," Ward said. "She is a smart, quick base runner. (Samantha) has a quick bat and is a hard worker."
Hard work is a trait also shared by Fitch's keystone combination of juniors Cali Mikovich and Alex Corradi. Mikovich is a two-year starter and leadoff hitter who set the school record for steals in 2012 while only being thrown out once. Corradi is another two-year starter who was at the top of the rankings in batting average a season ago. She is battling an injury right now, but it is hopeful that Corradi will return sometime during the first week of the season. Both juniors play lights-out defense up the middle too.
"They bring a great amount of leadership and experience to our infield," Ward said about the duo.
Two-time letter winner Mercedes Pratt is a junior who has "improved greatly" according to her coach and should be stationed at both first base and catcher. Rounding out the infield will be sophomore third baseman Nicolette Zordich, junior first baseman Billie Joe Cox and catcher Alex Coe. Zordich, Cox and Coe are all new to the varsity with Zordich and her powerful bat and cannon arm having the best opportunity of the three to be named a starter.
At times junior letter earner Gabrielle Butcher will see action at first base, but thanks to her very strong arm, Butcher will most likely be chopping down base runners from the outfield. Junior Jessica Welsh will be someone to look for in the outfield too, due to her fine defense. Welsh was also cited by Ward for being a good bunter and someone who can be useful late in games in those situations.
Of course, it doesn't really matter how good any of the offense is if it is needed to score double-digit runs every game. The task of keeping opposing runners from crossing home plate falls on Falcon junior Chelsea Raymer. The returning letter winner has the most experience of any Fitch pitcher and should be called upon early and often to befuddle opposing batters.
"(Raymer) has worked hard on her accuracy," said Ward. "She moves her pitches and changes speeds well. She keeps batters off balance."
When Raymer needs a break she can be replaced by extraordinary newcomer Alex Franken. Franken is a freshman who draws rave reviews from Ward.
"We are very excited to have her," exclaimed the coach. "She is an extremely hard worker. She has a bright future."
Thanks to this dynamic pitching duo, coach Ward thinks her team's future is bright too.
"(Raymer and Franken) have two different styles and speeds which should complement each other," she said.
Two more freshmen that may be receiving their own compliments before the end of this season are utility players Christiana Savo and Soriya Rezapourian.
The Lady Falcons will need production from top to bottom since they lost some of their power hitters from last year's lineup. Scoring runs may be hard to accomplish, however, against some great pitching in the All American Conference American Tier. Poland, Howland and Canfield have some solid arms and will probably be the three favorites for the league crown. Ward's warriors are also looking forward to reacquainting themselves with old Federal League foes Boardman, Canton GlenOak and Uniontown Lake. In fact, Fitch's first local game is against Boardman. That is, naturally, if the cold month of March turns into a more seasonable April. Coach Ward cannot wait for that change to happen.
"I'm anxious for the snow to melt so we can see how we look on the dirt," Ward announced.
From what the coach has observed of her girls inside, once they play for real outside things should become quite exhilarating.
"We expect to be competitive in the AAC," Ward said positively. "We think we have a group of hardworking girls that can be the best team we've had in a while."