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Friday, March 3, 2017

Pitt-Bradford Softball Set to Open 2017 Season in Florida

By Scott Elliott
BRADFORD, Pa. - The Pitt-Bradford softball team officially opens the season Monday at the Gene Cusic Collegiate Classic in Ft. Myers, Florida, with games against Swarthmore and Kenyon.

Pitt-Bradford will play a total of 12 games in nine days while in the Sunshine State, with contests scheduled against schools from Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

For all intent and purposes, the trip will also serve as a formal meet-and-greet for the Panthers. They do not have a senior on the roster and feature only two upperclassmen in juniors Natalie Harding and Cassidy Lewis. Head coach Tina Phillips is also welcoming 12 newcomers to the mix, including 10 freshmen.

“Being so young, it is going to be a teaching experience,” Phillips said. “There are times when we will be starting six to seven freshmen. It will be a great measuring stick to see what we are all about.”

Despite the team’s youth, Phillips is encouraged by the infusion of talent, citing this group as among the best she has brought into the program.

“On a whole, maybe the strongest class I have had here at Pitt-Bradford,” Phillips said. “They will all play a big part in our success. We just need some of them to step up sooner rather than later.”

Phillips will lean on her six returners to lead the newcomers and navigate the rigorous schedule in Florida.

Lewis led the Panthers in innings pitched last year while accounting for six wins, and her experience in the circle will be necessary, as Phillips works three freshmen arms into the picture. Lewis also saw time in the outfield and is a threat on the base paths.

Sophomores Liz Dzurisin, Maddy Hillery and Nicole Nolte are Pitt-Bradford’s top returning hitters. Dzurisin and Hillery each drove in 18 runs last year, and Nolte was a third-team all-conference performer behind the plate.

Harding can play several different positions, including catcher, and sophomore Grace Dadzaa was second on the team in stolen bases in 2016.

Phillips mentions the team’s speed—Pitt-Bradford ranked second in the league in stolen bases last year—and defensive prowess as the top strengths heading into the season.

“Fundamentally, we are pretty sound defensively, just that we will be young with freshmen starting in many spots,” Phillips said.

The unseasonable February weather has afforded the Panthers eight outdoor practices leading up to Monday’s opener and a chance to refine their defensive approach to game situations, a luxury that cannot be understated.

“In all my years of coaching softball, I have never had an opportunity to be on a field this early,” Phillips said. “To practice your game on the field, and not the in gym, is what we need heading into playing 12 games in nine days.

“I think it will pay dividends for the trip since we will only have one practice there.”

Pitt-Bradford was picked eighth in the AMCC preseason coaches’ poll, which was released Wednesday, but the Panthers rival many other schools in the league experiencing youth movements.

With this year’s team further along than previous Panther squads due to the weather, look for Pitt-Bradford to outperform its projections and snap a two-year postseason drought.

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