Clarksville, Ark.-First-year head softball coach Elizabeth Caroscio inherits nine starters and 12 returning letter-winners for the upcoming 2006 season.
Caroscio faces the challenge of rebounding from last year’s 11-28-1 record and last-place finish in the American Southwest Conference East division. The cupboard, however, is far from empty as five of the nine returning starters earned honorable-mention all-conference honors last season. With that in mind, the Lady Eagles are determined to bounce back from the 2005 campaign, according to Caroscio. “The girls want to bring this program to a new level,“ said Caroscio, who came from NCAA III College of New Rochelle in New York where she was named 2005 Hudson Valley Women’s Athletic Conference Coach of the Year. “We are having a lot of fun, but they are also working really hard. They understand that working hard in practice will pay off. I can see the improvement and the confidence level increasing. I know they felt more prepared during our fall games.” The Lady Eagles appear to be ready for a breakout season behind a more experienced group of players. Last season, Ozarks started only one senior. The Lady Eagles will likely start seven upperclassmen this year, resulting in an improved defensive club and a more potent offensive attack at the plate. Offensively, Ozarks returns all-conference players in sophomore Chelsea Joslin (.423), junior Kara Bartholomew (.320), senior Erica Newell (.311), junior Brooke Grice (.270) and junior Jodie Clark (.231). “We have some good hitters,“ said Caroscio. “We just have to know when to play the short game and know when to play the long game. We have players that can play.” The offensive no doubt starts with sophomore slugger Chelsea Joslin. Joslin tied for the league-lead in home runs (9) while finishing second in slugging percentage (.748), fifth in RBI (34) and fourth in total bases (83) and batting. Joslin broke nearly every school single-season record last year. “Chelsea is key,“ said Carosio. “She has a good eye at the plate and has a very good knowledge of the game. She will be our foundation in the lineup. She is eager and ready to play. She will see some time behind the plate, too.” Steady first baseman Erica Newell and reliable Brooke Grice at third base provide Ozarks with not only solid hitting, but also heady defensive play. “Erica is consistent at first base and at the plate,“ said Caroscio. “She is a veteran that knows what to do. She has good pop on the ball and she can also lay down the bunt. She is the well-rounded first baseman. Brooke is a vacuum at third base. She will go all out. She lays out for a ball and will do anything to block it. I think this will be another good year for her.” The infield will be bolstered by sophomore shortstop Jessica Pianalto, senior second baseman Devon Bottoms and junior second baseman Tiffany Armstrong. Senior Trenda Neff and junior Jeanne Randall will play behind the plate. Junior outfielders Jodie Clark and Kara Bartholomew provide speed roaming the outfield and on the base paths. “Our outfield will be quick,” said Caroscio. “They cover a lot of ground and they all have pretty strong arms. Jodie can read a lot of the plays and has a cannon for an arm. She can run down balls that you don’t necessarily think she can get to. Kara has speed at the plate. She plays a lot of short game and will make things happen on the bases. She has free reign on the bases since she is such a smart base-runner.” Caroscio hopes a tighter defense will put the Lady Eagles in position to win the close games. “My goal is to tighten up the defense and make our opponents earn every run they get,“ said Caroscio. “We have to have a tight defense. Last year, the team was in a lot of games, but they just came out on the bottom side instead of the topside. My goal is to have us in every game. Hitting is contagious, so if we can get the hits together, hopefully we can capitalize and get the runs we need to win.” In the circle, Caroscio will rely on senior Dana Marvin, junior Chanceree Catlett and junior transfer Andrea Mitchell. Marvin sported a team-best 2.84 ERA last season. Marvin stuck out a school-record 98 in 123.1 innings of work. The right-handed ace went 6-11 on the mound in 21 appearances. Catlett gave Ozarks 53 strikeouts in 119.0 innings on the mound. Catlett compiled a 5-15 record with a 4.06 ERA. Mitchell, a transfer from Murray State College, is expected to give Ozarks needed depth. “I want Ozarks to be a challenge to our opponents,” said Caroscio. “The team wants to have at least a .500 season and that’s a very realistic goal. But we need to come ready to play every game and play hard for seven innings.” The Lady Eagles will open the season on the road when they face Henderson State University on February 21. Ozarks first home game is March 13 against Greenville College.