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PSU Fayette softball team turns focus to hitting

| Tuesday, March 5, 2013, 12:41 a.m.

In her first season as coach of the Penn State Fayette women's softball team, Bethany Novotny led the Roaring Lions to a 9-7 record in the PSUAC. That was one win shy of the total needed to qualify for the conference playoffs.

A year later, the sting of the narrow postseason miss is still there.

“We showed a lot of potential last year, but a couple that we lost we should have won, and that ended up hurting us,” Novotny said.

One of the biggest culprits in Fayette's inability to clinch a playoff spot was the loss of top hitter Katie Volek to an ankle injury she suffered in midseason. Volek will be a sophomore this year and is expected to play third base.

Volek's return will be a welcome addition. Before her injury, she hit .519 with three homers and 20 RBI. Volek will bat fourth.

“We struggled offensively after that,” Novotny said about Volek's absence. “But she's back this year and offensively, we're definitely looking to improve. We need to score more runs.”

Novotny noted that the team might take a less-is-more approach when it comes to hitting.

“I definitely think we are gaining consistency and we want to keep focusing not so much on power, but on a higher hitting percentage,” Novotny said.

While the team's offensive production is a bit of a question mark, team defense and pitching will be strong.

Sophomores Moriah Kromer and Jessica Stairs, both Mt. Pleasant graduates, will handle most of the pitching duties. Kromer (7-8, 3.01 ERA) was a USCAA honorable mention in 2012. She struck out 88 and walked 11.

Considering that the team will play doubleheaders in conference play, having a one-two punch on the mound is important. Kromer and Stairs also will play shortstop and third base respectively. Volek also can step in and pitch, as can two Connellsville graduates, juniors Paige McWilliams and Samantha Virgillo. McWilliams will play outfield, and Virgillo will see action in the infield.

Sophomore Kaytee Cumberland, a Connellsville graduate, will play second base. Sophomore Shelby Dziak (Bentworth) will do the majority of the catching, and sophomore Stacey Riggar (Uniontown) can be used at a number of positions. Freshman Kelsie Seman, another Connellsville alumnus, will play infield and outfield; sophomore Stephanie Longo (Albert Gallatin) will play first base.

Connellsville graduate Teri Lewis is a freshman outfielder, as are Chelsey Duricic (California) and Taryn Dillie (Trinity).

“I think we have been strong for years defensively, and this is really not an issue,” Novotny said. “Being better offensively will be a game-changer for us. We've been working on our hitting technique and being able to hit multiple styles of pitchers. And I see that a lot of the older players are helping the freshmen.”

The Roaring Lions are in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where they will play a series of exhibition games.

“We want to use them (exhibition games) as live practices,” Novotny said. “And then going into our nonconference games, we want to be competitive. Then, in conference games, we need to not fall to teams we shouldn't lose to. Our ultimate goal is to make it to the playoffs.”

Jason Black is the local sports editor of the Daily Courier. He can be reached at jblack@tribweb.com.

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