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Mars softball team feels at home on the road

| Saturday, April 12, 2014, 6:18 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Mars pitcher Niki Schlegel delivers to the plate during a game at Hopewell on March 27, 2014.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Mars pitcher Niki Schlegel delivers to the plate during a game at Hopewell on March 27, 2014.

This year, the Mars softball team has felt at home on the road.

Thanks to inclement weather and poor field conditions, the Planets were scheduled to play their first six games on the road to open the season.

With a veteran team back, though, hitting the road to start the year hasn't bothered Mars. The team won its first four games, including two in WPIAL Section 5-AAA play.

“We've been on a long road trip, and it makes for long nights,” said Mars coach Michele Goodworth, who is in her 16th year leading the team. “It doesn't matter where you play, you have to step on the field and play the game.”

The Planets had more away games (four) than practices (two) on their home field through the beginning of the week.

“Not a whole lot has been said about it. We've been practicing in the gym and working in the weight room. We're trying to keep the mood light until we can get back to playing outside again,” Goodworth said. “I just look at it as maybe being a steppingstone to the postseason.”

The Planets reached the WPIAL playoffs last year, but lost 5-3 to West Allegheny in the first round. With a majority of the roster back, Mars hopes to win its third consecutive section title and get back to the playoffs. The team won the section last year with a 7-3 mark. It finished 9-10 overall.

“It just depends on which team shows up to play. I think any team in our section can win on any day,” Goodworth said. “Hopefully, we peak at the right time. It's always a goal to get back into the postseason; that's why we work so hard starting in January.”

One big loss for the Planets was pitcher Taylor Rotz, who is playing at Nova Southeastern University in Florida. Sophomore Niki Schlegel has taken over in the pitching circle for Mars.

“Niki was put into a pretty big role and, as a sophomore, handled it well,” Goodworth said. “She keeps her composure and she is very competitive. She works hard to fulfill her role on the team. She had big shoes to fill after we lost Taylor. She is successfully accomplishing her job. She works very hard in the offseason pitching year round. That's the position where you have to do that.

“A lot of these girls play tournament ball. The amount of games they've played is above and beyond. They have worked so hard and played so many games that they understand their role. They know what they have to do to win.”

Erin Hershman hopes to capitalize on a strong 2013 when she set the program record with nine home runs. The senior Robert Morris University recruit was on pace to surpass that mark this year; she had three homers and a .467 batting average through four games.

“The whole stress of making a decision on college is out of her mind,” Goodworth said. “I can see she is a little more relaxed this year. She makes things happen. She is a true athlete. She has some natural talent.”

Seniors Shelby Huber (left) and Jeanna Sybert (right) join Hershman (center) in the outfield. Senior Kasey Jones (first base), sophomore Mallory Eperesi (second base), junior Suzanne Papik (shortstop) and sophomore Blake Kitt (third base) comprise the infield. Freshman Marina Manuppelli is the catcher.

“Our infield is good and the outfield is strong, too. Defensively, we're making the right plays and executing the important plays. We have a lot of positives in every angle of the game. We have a lot of potential,” Goodworth said. “I am very happy with where we are. It's been such a positive season and that makes a world of difference.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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