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Penn State Fayette softball optimistic for 2014

| Saturday, April 5, 2014, 12:21 a.m.

Penn State Fayette softball coach Bethany Novotny has a unique perspective on the program she runs.

Novotny was a player for the Roaring Lions from 2007-10 and served as an assistant coach in 2011 before becoming the team's head coach in 2012.

Now in her third season as the Roaring Lions' bench boss, Novotny offered a positive assessment of the 2014 team.

“This is the most optimistic group I've seen since becoming the coach,” she said, noting her first recruiting class is having a strong impact in the early part of the season.

She also pointed out a solid group of freshmen will bolster the team this season and in the future.

“This is the first year we've had so much depth,” Novotny said.

The Roaring Lions' depth is evident when it comes to pitching.

Penn State Fayette is led by junior pitcher Moriah Kromer, a returning starter and a Mt. Pleasant graduate. Kromer already has a pair of shutouts this season, including a 5-0 victory over Penn State Beaver as part of a doubleheader sweep April 1.

“She is a big part of our pitching,” Novotny said.

However, Kromer isn't the only capable pitcher on the roster. Jessica Stairs, who is also a junior and Mt. Pleasant graduate, can be counted on, as well. Plus, freshman Andrea Lash, a Frazier graduate, is in the mix.

“This year is probably our strongest in pitching,” Novotny said.

In most instances, they will be throwing to catcher Miranda Nichols. Senior Jill Guthrie is a capable backstop.

Around the infield, junior Katie Volek has been a steady third baseman. Kromer plays shortstop when she isn't pitching. When Kromer is pitching, freshman Kayla Hancheck fills the spot. Morgan Miller and senior Stephanie Longo are starters at second and first base, respectively.

Guthrie, Stairs and sophomore Taryn Dillie make up the starting outfield, playing in left, center and right, respectively.

Junior Alyssa Strausser, a transfer from Penn State Scranton, is a team captain and will be used as a designated player. She is also a capable second baseman.

Sophomore Teri Lewis will be used as a designated player as well.

In terms of offense, Kromer gives the team a threat from the leadoff position while Stairs possesses power in the cleanup spot.

The Roaring Lions, despite the soggy early spring conditions, have managed to squeeze in six nonconference games and three PSUAC contests.

Penn State is 3-6 overall but has 2-1 in conference action.

Novotny is encouraged by what she has seen from her team.

“I definitely see this team improving each game,” Novotny said. “We learned a lot in nonconference play. We learned from our mistakes, and in conference play, we'll get better.”

In all her years with the team, one thing Novotny has never experienced is a trip to the postseason. She's hoping to cross that off the list this season.

“I think there is a real chance at a playoff opportunity,” she said. “This is a team that can go all the way this year.”

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

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