LHU softball looks to improve on last year’s success

By BILL ALBRIGHT

Express Sports Writer

LOCK HAVEN — One lesson the Lock Haven University softball team learned last season is that it doesn’t matter how you start, the important thing is how you finish.

One year ago, the Lady Eagles finished an outstanding 38-14 campaign that left them one win short of advancing to the NCAA Super Regional. During PSAC conference play, the Lady Eagles were perfect with a 20-0 mark.

With the top two pitchers and six of eight position starters returning, hopes are running high for the Lock Haven University softball team as the 2019 season approaches.

“We have everybody back with the exception of Moriah Lindsey and Amanda Loar, but those two were very big for us,” said LHU head coach Kelly Shannon. “Even though we graduated five, the other three might not have seen a lot of field time, but they were an integral part of our team chemistry. There are still some things we are looking for, but as I said before, we are in a better place now than we were a year ago and that is a positive sign for us.”

Having lost their only two senior starters from last year in Lindsey and Loar, both outfielders, it means that some of the younger players need to step up and fill those holes.

Returning for LHU in the outfield is arguably its most consistent position player in senior Becca Caputo, a former standout at Jersey Shore High School. Caputo finished last year with a batting mark of .317 to go along with fifteen doubles, six home runs and 41 RBI.

Joining Caputo in the LHU outfield will most likely be two of the three players who are battling for the spots in freshmen Amanda Criss and Kayla Ruppert along with sophomore Stefanie O’Grady.

“One of our freshmen, Mikayla Ruppert, has stepped up and is currently in right field for us. She has stepped up offensively and although she isn’t an outfielder by trade, she is just a very athletic kid. She is growing every day. In left field we are platooning with O’Grady and Criss. Right now we are trying to use every opportunity we have to teach them and every time we had a miscue and not necessarily an error, they get it and they are not making the same mistake again. I really feel that at some point, we are going to solidify the outfield.”

While the Lady Eagle outfield needs some revamping for the 2019 campaign, the infield is intact with the likes of junior Chloe Kennedy, senior Faith Ceely, senior Traci Kromko, junior Casey Carpenter and senior Bree Hilty (Central Mountain) along with sophomore Rachel Gricoski.

“We have a lot of experience in the infield and that gives our pitchers a lot of confidence, knowing that they have their backs,” said Shannon. “We pride ourselves on our defense so one way or the other, we are going to make sure that we are solid defensively regardless of who is in there.”

Add to those returnees the return of catcher Madison Mathes and it is easy to see why the Lady Eagles are defensively solid up the middle.

“Maddy does a great job behind the plate,” said Shannon. “She receives the ball well and she not only handles the pitchers well, but she has a good repore with them. She has a strong arm, a quick release so overall, she does everything well.”

As far as the pitching staff is concerned, the Lady Eagles feature a double-edge sword in Bekah Slattery (lefty) and Kayla Gee (righty).

Slattery, a senior, is a returning all-conference pitcher who finished last season with a 20-7 log. Half of Slattery’s wins were shutouts, while she also recorded four saves when called upon to finish games. Her categorical numbers included 219 strikeouts and fifty walks in 192 1/3 innings of work. For her work during the season, Slattery was named an All-Region pitcher.

As for Gee (Loyalsock), she seemed to get stronger as the year progressed, finishing with a 16-5 log. Seven of her 16 wins were shutouts as she posted individual numbers of 109 strikeouts and 49 walks in 133 1/3 innings of work.

“I don’t really think of it (throwing a lefty or righty) that much because our game is so much different than baseball,” said Shannon. “They both just do such a good job of going out there and attacking. They are both gamers who want to win and with them standing there in the middle of the field, that is a huge advantage for us.”

Although Slattery and Gee both bring their individual things to the LHU game, Slattery is the veteran and has been through the ropes before, not only as an outstanding pitcher, but as a leader.

“We have thrown her into that situation (leader) from the beginning of her freshman year until now,” explained Shannon. “That is what she was recruited to do. You bring in kids and from day one, some of them you know are going to be a game changer for you. She thrives in that situation and that is who Bekah Slattery is.”

The Lady Eagles are coming off a very successful (38-14) campaign in 2018 that saw them capture the top rung in the PSAC Central Division before advancing to the Atlantic 1 Regional championship where a 4-0 loss to West Chester left them one win from advancing to the NCAA Big Dance.

Helping Shannon guide the Lady Eagles to what will hopefully be a successful season is assistant Danielle Fraser along with Lindsey, now a volunteer coach for the LHU program.

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