Niagara Gazette — Starpoint softball coach Joe Hill can’t recall the last time expectations were this high.
Two seasons ago, the Spartans were 1-12 sitting in the ECIC II basement. They went 8-12 last season, defeating league powerhouse Williamsville North for the first time in years, but still lost a few games they’d like to have back.
Now with power, pitching and speed scattered across the lineup, Hill, entering his fourth season as varsity coach, and the Spartans can finally talk about a league title.
Early on, they’re talking about their 6-0 record to start this season.
“This is the most well-rounded team I’ve ever had,” Hill said. “I can’t pinpoint one weak spot — in the lineup, on the field or in the circle. And that’s this team’s biggest strength.
“There’s no question 1-9, this is as good a team as I’ve ever had.”
The positive outlook on this season prompted Hill to schedule the team’s first trip to Myrtle Beach over spring break. It appears the Spartans’ have benefited from the head start, winning their first two league games this past week.
It’s no coincidence that the program has grown every season sisters Brianna and Madison Clark have been a part of it.
Brianna, a junior, is entering her fourth season at third base. She’s been named the team’s MVP in each of her past two seasons, leading the Spartans with a .439 average, 12 extra-base hits and 22 RBI a year ago.
Madison, a sophomore second baseman, offers a different element to the team. Hill said her on-base ability and speed sets the table perfectly for cleanup hitter Brianna. Together, they’ve helped to create what Hill hopes will become a winning foundation.
“Brianna’s one of our cornerstone players,” Hill said. “Whenever you’ve got a girl like her, one who works as hard as she does, it pays off. There’s no question about that. ... They’re both such different players. That’s what our team builds off of.”
Beyond the Clark sisters lies a roster full of other contributors, which sets this group apart from past Spartan teams.
Junior co-captain Ashley Owens and sophomore Allison Block comprise what Hill considers to be the “strongest combination of pitchers I’ve ever had.” Owens and Block will alternate time in the circle. Block, who led the team in hits, runs and steals last season, will also play at shortstop.
“It’s a 1a-1b situation,” Hill said. “They’re both throwing extremely well, mixing in five pitches.”
Centerfielder Emily Whitson, the team co-captain who batted .410 last season, leads a group of three seniors ready to provide steady leadership. Fellow seniors Jen Meyer and Nicole Cyr will also play key roles.
Heading down the list, Ashley Feind, Nicole Adams, Anna Reinart, Michelle Adamski and Mikenna Pelloth round out a very strong junior class that will contribute offensively and defensively up and down the lineup.
Sophomores Aren Schwab, who will see time at shortstop, and Victoria Purucker add to a team loaded with depth.
“We have a lot more girls who are taking long, hard looks at the game of softball, playing in the summer and working year round. They have experience. With experience comes expectations, and with expectations comes performance.”
That’s what Hill calls a winning combination.
“It’s definitely going to be a tough league this year,” Hill acknowledged, “but I’m not afraid to think these girls are real close to winning a championship.”Follow contributing sports reporter Brandon Schlager on Twitter @B_Schlag.