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Oberdorf remains undecided on pitcher as season approaches

| Thursday, March 24, 2005

Leechburg doesn't rebuild, it just retools.

Head coach Jim Oberdorf has been at the helm of the Lady Blue Devils softball program for 25 years and he would have to "guess" that the team has won 19 or 20 section titles.

"Honestly, I don't keep track of that," Oberdorf said. "I can't think the last time we didn't win one."

Actually it was in 2002, when the team lost starting pitcher Jen Kulick to a knee injury, replaced her with second baseman Rachel Solomon and Greensburg Central Catholic ended Leechburg's string of 19 straight titles. The Lady Blue Devils rebounded with championships each of the last two seasons, however, and this season appears to be no different for Leechburg.

The Lady Blue Devils lost just one player from last season's 14-3 team and Oberdorf likes what he sees early on.

"I would like to consider Leechburg softball as not being a softball team but a softball program," he said. "We can lose one or two girls a year and we can keep going."

Oberdorf has a deadly one-two punch on the mound this season.

Senior Emily Sprankle and sophomore Emily Batiz are battling for the No. 1 starter role and give Leechburg perhaps the best pitching staff in Section 4-A.

"Both are neck and neck," Oberdorf said. "Both are great softball leaders and have exceptional skills. The only difference between them is one is right-handed and the other is left-handed. The tale will be which ever one can pick up their location. Both want to pitch. Competition is great."

"I am going to let them both battle it out."

Pitching has always been the staple of the Leechburg program, from Jennifer Wolfe to Jackie Mozga through to Stacy Pastva and Kulick. But while Sprankle and Batiz battle it out for mound supremacy, the lineup may be just as lethal.

The only bat missing from last season's WPIAL runner-up team is third baseman Melissa Geer but Oberdorf believes the team shouldn't miss a beat.

"My general overall evaluation of the team is if the girls put as much effort as last season, we should be able to win a lot more games than we lose," he said. "We should be able to score more runs."

Sprankle will be the center of the offense with Haley Bradbury and Batiz supplying more run support.

The Lady Blue Devils look solid on defense as well with Maggie Jones as shortstop and Allison Shepler at second base. When not pitching, either Sprankle or Batiz will play left field.

"I have to keep both in the lineup," Oberdorf said.

Lindsey Ulizio, who missed half the season last year with a broken nose, will complete the outfield.

While the lineup isn't a question mark, the section itself is. because of realignment Leechburg finds itself moved from Section 7-A to Section 4-AA this season and Oberdorf isn't pleased with it.

"I don't know anything about our section," he admitted, "but I know what my team is like. I thought we should be playing in a section with Ford City, Burrell, Freeport, Apollo-Ridge and West Shamokin. We've had some great rivalry games with West Shamokin. It was like a title game for both teams. I am going to miss that. I am not looking forward to the section."

West Shamokin, however, moved up to Class AA this season while Leechburg remained in Class A. That means a lot more travel to play teams like Serra Catholic, the Ellis School, and Mount Alvernia.

Still, Oberdorf believes the pieces are in place for another section title and greater things for this season's retooled Lady Blue Devils squad.

"I think they believe last year, we got to the WPIAL finals, we made some mental mistakes and it could have been much closer," Oberdorf said. "This year, we want to do it. They have their sights set on it."

No matter if he decides to go right or left.

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