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Softball returns eight to starting lineup

Senior shortstop Claire O’Dea is one of eight returning starters on this year’s Northwestern softball team (Press File Photo).
Senior shortstop Claire O’Dea is one of eight returning starters on this year’s Northwestern softball team (Press File Photo).

Story first appeared in the March 23, 2016 edition of The Northwestern Press and on thelehighvalleypress.com later that day.

High School softball games feature seven innings.

One of the keys to success for the Northwestern Lady Tigers softball team this spring is to keep up their style of play for all seven.

“Last year in the games we lost they almost all had one thing in common, one bad inning,” second-year head coach Josh Zimmerman said. “If we are truly going to contend for any type of championship, we have to eliminate those bad innings and stay consistent throughout the year.”

That one-frame slip-up proved costly for Northwestern in crucial spots throughout its 2015 campaign, a season where the team finished 12-10 overall and 9-8 in the Colonial League. The most harmful inning of them all was the five-run third inning Southern Lehigh pieced together in last year’s district semifinal, ending Northwestern’s season.

The Tigers have all but two players returning from last year’s team. Starting catcher and first baseman Sunny Greenberg as well as relief pitcher Emily Bennett graduated. The rest of the group is back, something Northwestern hasn’t been able to boast in recent years.

“Experience and depth,” Zimmerman said when asked about his team’s strongest areas. “[It’s] something Northwestern hasn’t had in a while.”

The eight returning starters bring that experience and depth. Leading that charge are five seniors in starting pitcher/centerfielder Lydia Danner, shortstop Claire O’Dea, third baseman Kaitlyn Bowers, outfielder Morgan Billig and outfielder/pitcher Ellen Smith.

Additional returning starters include a trio of juniors in catcher Brooke Wehr, second baseman Avery George and rightfielder Jess Badman.

Zimmerman returning for his second season provides stability at the helm of the program, something else that has been missing for a few seasons in New Tripoli. He says togetherness is the message for 2016, as well as “putting more of an emphasis on what it is to be a team. In order to be successful you have to get 16 girls buying into a vision in order to realize your goals,” he said.

Another new twist for 2016 is the more favorable preseason conditions. All of the Lehigh Valley’s teams benefit from unseasonably warm days and the absence of snow on the ground. Zimmerman sees it as a big factor in preparation for this season.

“This time last year, we hadn’t even been outside once,” said Zimmerman. “We were outside every day last week, including Saturday. That paired with the veteran team that we have coming back, as far as plays and situations go, we are almost in the regular season practice flow already.”

Combine the eight experienced starters returning from a district semifinal team, a returning head coach and a warm end of winter, Zimmerman hopes to eradicate the one-inning woes this spring because the Lady Tigers have their sights set high.

“Our goal is lofty,” said Zimmerman. “We want to be playing in championship games in the month of May. With that being said, though, we have to absolutely have a one-game-at-a-time mentality and right now the most important game on our schedule is Tamaqua on March 26.”

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