Skipjacks face heavyweight schedule in Fla.
Coach Hayes: ’We’re going down there to get better’
PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. Chipola College, the 2007 NJCAA Division I women’s softball national champion, is 24-6 and has won 18 straight games. San Jacinto Community College, another Division I program, is 13-7. And Division I Indian Hills Community College competed in last year’s national tournament.
Those teams make up Chesapeake College’s pool play opponents in this weekend’s 2011 NFCA Junior College Leadoff Classic.
"There are no slack games in this tournament," remarked Chesapeake College head coach Durrie Hayes.
Hayes said the Skipjacks are happy to play in such a high-quality, invitation-only event.
"We’re not going down to win this tournament. We’re going down there to get better," said Hayes.
The Skipjacks open their season with two games on Friday, a 2:30 p.m. contest against Indian Hills and then a 5 p.m. game against San Jacinto. Chesapeake finishes pool play Saturday with a 12:30 p.m. match-up against Chipola.
After pool play, teams will be divided into three double-elimination championship brackets Gold, Silver, and Bronze based upon pool-play results.
The Skipjacks will start play with the largest, deepest and most experienced roster in Hayes’ four years as head coach.
The 15-player roster features seven sophomores, including six returners from last year’s 24-8 squad that shared the state title with CCBC-Catonsville and Cecil College. The seventh sophomore, Anna Morris, played on Chesapeake’s 2009 Region XX championship squad.
"It appears that we have a deeper lineup and a deeper bench than in the past," said Hayes.
The infield features three sophomores first baseman Morris (Easton High), Canadian second baseman Janean Lowenberger (Greenall High), and shortstop Becca English (Estero High/Florida) and freshman third baseman Sarah Spicher (Easton High). Sophomore catcher Tiffeny Ricks (Colonel Richardson High) is back along with pitcher Kelsi Robinson (Huntingtown High/Calvert County), who will split time on the mound with freshman Amber Labille (Lackey High/Charles County).
Lowenberger and Ricks were all-state first-teamers last year.
"We’re going to be very solid in the infield," said Hayes. "We’ve got three catchers, which is unheard of for us, and we’ve got nine who can play in the outfield."
Freshman Becca Wooten, a Cambridge native who was homeschooled, can play first and third base. Sophomores Alycia Vansant (Kent County High) and Chelsea Hunt (Paint Branch High/Montgomery County) are slated for outfield duty along with Lavin Kulina (Long Reach High/Howard County), Linda Roark (Kent County High), Carly Budd (North Dorchester High), Elizabeth Biskach (North Dorchester High), Ashley Muhleman (North Caroline High), Robinson and Labille.
The outfield is up for grabs," said Hayes. "That’s the real battle for playing time."
Hayes lost all-state first-team pitchers Jordan Wright and Jill Piasecki, but is cautiously optimistic about this year’s pitching prospects.
"Kelsi did a nice job last year, but Kelsi had her knee scoped Dec. 1st and wasn’t cleared to practice until February 1st," said Hayes. "We have Amber who’s doing well, but we’ve been throwing in the gym."
Hayes said participating in the Leadoff Classic will be a good experience regardless of the final count in wins and losses.
"If you’re a four-year school and you like JuCo players, this is where you want to go to recruit," said Hayes. "The exposure is good for the college, the team and the girls. Our regular Florida trip (March 12-17 in Cocoa Beach) is no piece of cake, but we’ll be a little less easy to impress after the competition we see in the Leadoff Classic."
Hayes expects Chesapeake to be one of the teams contending for this year’s state and regional titles along with perennial power Catonsville.
"I think we’ll match up with them," said Hayes, whose team plays a pivotal league doubleheader at Catonsville March 30. "We have a nice defensive team, we’ve got speed, we have depth, and we have some athletic girls.
"They really have worked hard and no small part of that is due to competition for playing time," said Hayes. "It gets old in that gym after six weeks."
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