Bluffton juniors to lead Beavers on diamond in 2011
February 8, 2011
By: Brandy Bidlack, sports information assistant
HCAC Pre-season Coaches Poll
BLUFFTON, Ohio - The Bluffton University softball team will enter the 2011 season
with confidence and renewed energy as the squad includes nine freshmen, a transfer
and eight prominent returnees. In 2010 the Beavers finished second in the Heartland
Conference, behind two-time HCAC defending champion Transylvania. Bluffton ended the
season with an 18-22 record, including an 11-5 mark in the conference.
Head Coach Heather Bruder returns for her fifth season with the Beavers, entering
the 2011 campaign with an overall record of 87-69 at Bluffton, including a 45-18 stamp
on HCAC action. Bruder will be joined by 2010 Bluffton alum and softball sensation
Brooke Babcock, who ended the 2010 season slugging .491 in addition to being the Beavers'
top pitcher during her four years in the circle.
Bruder stated that one of their goals for the year is to secure a spot in the NCAA
Regionals. Coach commented, "We have been so close the past few years. If we make
improvement on the offensive side of the game, we can better our chances to win the
conference tournament. Runs are what wins games and we need to hit over .320 as a
team." The winner of the HCAC tournament receives an automatic bid into the NCAA Division
III Tournament. The Beavers fell just short last spring as they placed third while
Transylvania captured the HCAC tournament title.
Coach Bruder looks to be improved this year. "Our goals all align with our team perspective.
We must play the game, not the opponent." She explained that putting up a respectable
ERA and cutting down on errors will improve Bluffton's chances for a conference title.
"Most teams believe an error a game is acceptable. Not for us. We need to cut down
on miscues if we want to be the best." Day in and day out, Coach Bruder expects each
player to know what adjustments to make offensively and defensively. "My goal is to
teach the game. Once I have done that, these girls will have everything they need
to be the best," responded Bruder.
The Beavers lost two outstanding players from last year's team. Brooke Babcock added
10 wins for Bluffton while teammate Jayme Marbaugh was a phenomenal third baseman
who could read the slap bunts and come up with the ball no matter what. In response
to the loss, Bruder quipped, "There's no replacing these two ladies. We just have
to find a pair of freshman who are aggressive both in the field and at the dish."
Bluffton will count on leadership from sophomore hurler Stevie Cuttitta (Columbiaville, Mich./Clio) who snapped Ohio Northern's 29 game-winning streak with
a lockdown performance against the Polar Bears last season. Junior Kristin Agauas (Bloomfield, Mich./Andover) brings more experience to the circle, while freshman
Kayla Owens (Cincinnati/McAuley) looks to complement the pitching rotation.
To complete the short game, Bruder turns to junior catcher MeAgan Price (Toledo/Springfield). "She does an excellent job blocking the ball, limiting stolen
bases and managing our pitching staff. " Price also proved to be an offensive threat
as she hit .274 with 14 walks and 10 stolen bases last year.
First Team All-HCAC performer Emily Manahan (Columbus/Bishop Watterson) led the team with a .343 batting average last season
and has been considered among the top first basemen in the league. Fellow junior Chelsie Osborne (Chillicothe/Waverly) anchors the infield from her shortstop position and she crossed
the plate 21 times while tallying 39 hits in 2010.
The Beavers will also be looking for solid contributions from several freshmen this
season. Bruder believes Shelby Erford (Paulding) will secure an infield spot. "She puts in all the effort and is very coachable.
She listens and tries to improve her game every day. Shelby is definitely one to watch
this season." Coach Bruder also feels that offensive standout Natalie Nikitas (Jeffersonville, Ind.) will see playing time, saying, "Natalie is a solid player
who could create a lot of offensive action for us." Transfer student Ashley Manusos (Spring Grove, Ill./McHenry Community East) could also see significant playing time
for the Beavers in 2011.
When questioned which teams will be in the mix for a berth in the HCAC tournament
this year, Bruder remarked, "Transylvania, who won the past two regular season titles
as well as the tournament championship last year, basically returns its whole team,
including HCAC Player of the Year Megan Mitchell. However, no one outside of Lexington
wants a three-peat so everyone will be gunning for the Pioneers. Anderson and Manchester
have the tools to compete and no one should overlook Defiance as a legitimate threat.
I love this conference; on any given day, any team can beat any other team. There's
nothing like the Heartland Conference softball programs." The Beavers were pegged
to finish second in the pre-season HCAC Coaches' poll, behind Transylvania.
The Beavers will head to Florida once again for their annual spring break schedule
of 10 challenging matchups. This year, Bluffton will face four Ohio schools and Thomas
More, a PAC school in northern Kentucky. "Florida is always a lot of fun," states
Bruder. "We get to play competitive teams that we wouldn't normally have the opportunity
to see." The first game is slated for 1 p.m. on March 7 against Marietta College.
Bluffton will return from Florida and begin the northern portion of its season on
March 16 when the Beavers travel to Alma for a 3:30 p.m. showdown with Bruder's alma
mater. The softball team will host its first home game of the 2011 season on Thursday,
March 31, against Adrian College. On April 2, Bluffton welcomes two-time defending
HCAC-champion Transylvania for the first conference doubleheader of the year at 1