From red and white to blue and gold: A pair of Lady Chucks hope to help anchor Golden Eagles
CLARION — A young, energetic Golden Eagles softball team — one that includes a pair of former Lady Chucks players in freshmen Taylor Powell and Shawnna Crago — took the field last Monday in North Myrtle Beach, S.C., to kick off the 2012 Clarion University softball season.
“We are a young team,” Clarion’s second-year head coach Shintrika Hudson said. “We only have two seniors – and one of them is playing her first season – two juniors and three sophomores. There isn’t a lot of experience. We have a core group of one- or two-year players leading an entire crew of girls coming out of great high-school programs but walking into a league, the PSAC Central, with pretty intense competition.”
While the Golden Eagles season is just a week old, they have already put in eight games during an intense week of softball down south, and they'll return home with a 5-3 record. Clarion dropped a pair of games last Monday to Lycoming and Concord but finished spring training by winning five of its final six games.
Now, the Golden Eagles — riding a three-game winning streak — will host Edinboro in their home opener Wednesday.
Hudson knows her team will have to be ready to play every game in a league that features a team – Lock Haven – that has won a pair of national titles in the last decade and two others – Bloomsburg and defending PSAC Champion IUP – that have each reached one Elite Eight in the last two years.
“We want to be above .500 in the PSAC Central,” Hudson said. “We also want to work to be competitive in each game and take every game to a full seven innings and take some games away from some of the stronger teams in our conference. If we do that, then we have a shot at being in the top three in the conference, which means a PSAC playoff berth.”
Hudson acknowledges that with a young team, the Golden Eagles will have to overcome some challenges to reach their goals.
“One of the challenges with freshmen is trying to get them to work together with the upperclassmen and still work on their fundamentals, both offensively and defensively,” Hudson said.
Two of the young players that are a part of Hudson's squad wore the red and white for the Lady Chucks, and Powell and Crago each hope to contribute to the Golden Eagles' season.
Powell jumped out to an impressive start on the spring training trip to South Carolina, going 15-30 with three doubles, seven RBI and seven runs scored to lead Clarion's offense.
Crago, who will serve the Golden Eagles as a pitcher, struck out six in various outings during the week-long trip and earned two RBI in a loss Wednesday to Arcadia.
One area where Hudson believes the Golden Eagles will be much improved is on the mound, where three freshmen — Crago, Julie Sokol and Chelsea Zola — join junior Megan Daley (4-8, 4.49 ERA).
“Having four pitchers will allow each pitcher to throw their game knowing they can get a rest in the next game,” Hudson said. “That will allow them to really concentrate on the game they are pitching. We can also do a lot more planning on which style of pitcher we want to use against a certain team.”
Daley, the only returning pitcher, uses the curve ball as her go-to pitch, according to Hudson, whose strength is hitting the outside part of the plate.
Sokol, who Hudson said doesn’t allow anything to phase her, is good at going to the inside of the plate. Her rise is her best pitch.
Crago is a power pitcher who is working on her changeup, while Zola is more of a finesse pitcher who works well with off speed pitches and makes the ball move. Her best pitch is the drop.
At second base, Clarion will go with freshman Powell, who was originally brought in to play first base.
“She has a nice, quick throw, and her range has improved,” Hudson said. “She has a passion to learn and is always examining what she does. Her ability to turn the double play will be key this year.”
PSAC Central play starts March 30 for Clarion at Lock Haven, with the first home PSAC Central game slated for April 6 against IUP.
Clarion softball, Powell and Crago can be followed all season long at www.clariongoldeneagles.com/softball as well as on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Clariongoldeneagles and on twitter @ClarionEagles.