Clarksville, Ark.- A group of six talented seniors lead the way for the 2007 University of the Ozarks softball team.
The veteran club, which has seven starters back, gives Ozarks a solid core of experienced players for head coach Elizabeth Caroscio’s second season. The Lady Eagles return 72 percent of their offensive run production and 195 of the team’s 256 hits from a year ago. Three of the team’s starting players will be four-year starters - Kara Bartholomew, Jodie Clark and Brooke Grice. Seniors Tiffany Armstrong, Jeanne Randall, who has split time behind the plate the past four seasons, and Andrea Mitchell all enter the year as seasoned veterans. “I have a great group of seniors that are taking over as leaders,” said Caroscio. “They have really come together. They want to play hard and they want to win. They are out there making sure everyone is working hard. The team’s attitude has been great.” It will be a senior class that will be called upon to help Ozarks recover from a 3-19 record in the rugged American Southwest Conference. The Lady Eagles, who finished 14-23 overall, have to remain focused on themselves and display confidence throughout the season for a turn-around to occur, according to Caroscio. “Our biggest goal is about us,” said Caroscio. “Our goal is not to worry about who we are playing, rather we need to focus our attention on ourselves. We need to make sure we are making each other the best we can be. We need to believe we can win. Softball is ninety percent mental, and the rest is physical. We need to be confident in one another.” “I was proud of our team that they never gave up last year,” said Caroscio. “They fought to the end. We have specific goals we want to improve this season. We want a better fielding percentage and we want to improve our team batting average. If we can do those things, the wins will come.” Junior first baseman/designated hitter Chelsea Joslin leads a balanced offensive attack. Joslin has provided Ozarks with back-to-back productive seasons, and has been an All-Conference performer in each of those years. She hit .310 with three home runs and had a team-best 24 RBI last season. She has accumulated a career .587 slugging percentage. “Chelsea is a huge impact player,” said Caroscio. “She has a lot of strength and power. She reads the ball well. She will see time at first and as designated hitter.” In addition to Joslin, the infield returns Grice at third base, sophomore Danielle Dirks at shortstop and junior Jessica Pianalto at second base. Armstrong is a valuable utility player and can be used in a variety of ways. Grice, a two-time All-Conference performer, hit .295 with 11 RBI while collecting 31 hits. She had a .954 fielding percentage at the hot corner. Dirks led the team in home runs (4) and slugging percentage (.500) en route to earning All-Conference honors. She hit .292 and knocked in 19 runs. Pianalto led the squad in doubles (10) and stole 12 bases a year ago. She hit .281 and had 32 hits to go along with 16 RBI. Armstrong played in 30 games last season and scored ten runs while stealing five bases. “Brooke is our clutch player,” said Caroscio. “She always seems to find a way to get us going on a rally. She sees the ball well and has quick compact swings while being explosive through the zone. She is consistent at the plate and at third base. She is very poised at the hot corner.” “Danielle and Jessica will be impact players offensively, too” said Caroscio. “Danielle has a year under her belt and Jessica came on strong last year. They cover those holes very good together. They are a good unit. Tiffany has been doing tremendous work and will see time in the outfield. We have a talented defensive team.” Clark and Bartholomew are both All-Conference performers and will fill two of the outfield spots. Newcomer Stacy Simpson will also see time in the outfield. Clark, a two-time All-Conference player, started in 37 games and collected 17 hits while stealing nine bases. Bartholomew, also a two-time All-Conference player, is the career leader in steals (45) at Ozarks. She hit .289 and scored 17 runs and stole 15-of-16 bases in 2006. Both Clark and Bartholomew bat left-handed. “Jodie and Kara cover a lot of ground in the outfield,” said Caroscio. “They don’t let the gapers come through. They spark our offense with their quickness on the bases. They are very positive leaders. Stacy will be an impact player with her speed and arm strength.” The 2007 version of the Lady Eagles features more hitters than the previous season, according to Caroscio. “I see us as more of a hitting team this year,” said Caroscio. “I think we can be more of a power hitting team, and one that will hit more doubles. We just need to cash those runs in when we get on base. We don’t want to leave runners stranded because we have more hitters in our lineup this year. As a group, we have girls that can step up so there is not a void when someone is not on their game.” The pitching staff will revolve around senior right-hander Andrea Mitchell. Freshman Stephany Henson, who also throws right-handed, will have an impact on the mound, and Clark adds a situational pitcher to the staff. Mitchell led the team in ERA (2.28) while posting a 6-5 record on the mound. The steady Mitchell finished with 32 strikeouts and gave up only nine walks in 79.2 innings pitched last season. “Andrea has great control,” said Caroscio. “We will lean on her a lot. She doesn’t give up too many walks and she doesn’t load up the bases to put pressure on the defense. She has composure on the mound, and that’s a trait you can never teach. Stephany has improved tremendously in the fall. She offers a little more speed and has good movement. She is really hungry to learn, and we will use Jodie in certain situations.” With an influx of capable newcomers, a key to the team’s success will be putting the right combination of players on the field, according to Caroscio. “We have some new players that will help us,” said Caroscio. “They are adding a lot of hunger. They are challenging the upperclassmen and that’s what you need. We just need to put the best nine together. We need to find out who makes the best combination in order for us to be successful. Every player on this roster is as vital as the next. They all have a role, and we will need them at different times throughout the year.”