Defiance softball preview: Bulldogs focus on improvement

Looking for 'marked improvement'

By AARON GROSS @crescentsports cnsports@crescent-news.com Published:

The Defiance High School softball jump was inadvertently left out of the Wednesday edition of The Crescent-News. The following is the complete story:

With one full campaign under his belt after an abbreviated role at the end of the 2012 season, Hans Zipfel will guide his Defiance softball ladies into 2014 coming off the momentum of a sectional title a season ago.

After finishing 13-14 overall and 3-6 in Western Buckeye League play, good for sixth overall, the Bulldogs have their eyes set on improvement and success this time around. That improvement will hinge upon the contributions made by a whopping 11 returning letterwinners.

"We have made progress," noted Zipfel, a DHS and Defiance College graduate. "We took a very positive step last May with the sectional title and throughout the summer. More and more girls are beginning to buy in.

"Though we have many kids with two years of varsity experience, we are still fairly young with the bulk of our lineup being juniors and sophomores. Winning is a learned habit and we have yet to totally imbue those things that winning requires."

Despite the wealth of experienced varsity players coming back to don the Blue-and-White, the losses the Lady Bulldogs did suffer to graduation were significant, as DHS loses both their leading hitter (Emily Gallant) and leading pitcher (Bry Perez) from a year ago.

Gallant, a third team all-WBL performer at catcher in 2013, has departed, taking with her a .429 batting average, 36 hits, 22 RBI and three homers, all of which led the Bulldogs. Perez, Defiance's ace and a second team all-league honoree, finished 9-9 last season, compiling a 1.56 ERA and punching out 176 batters while driving in 10 runs and 15 hits.

Leading the way for the DHS returnees is junior third baseman Trista Guyton, who played in all 27 games a year ago, pounding out 19 hits and scoring 17 runs. Along with Guyton comes a strong junior contingent of utility players Ryn Riehle (.284 average, 23 hits, 11 RBI) and Hayley Burnett (13 hits, 13 runs) and shortstop Kristin Emerson (11 hits, six RBI).

Noted Zipfel: "Our infield will be one of the strongest areas on our team. Our outfield will need to be improved from last year but with Niqua Rowe and Brooklyn Miller out there, we're confident that will happen.

"We had a significant amount of our roster come up from JV at the end of last year, which created a marked improvement. Knock on wood, but going into this season, we feel like we should be markedly better than last year."

One issue that will need to be addressed is the inexperience on the mound for the upcoming year. Along with the graduation of Bry Perez, would-be junior Caitlin Manon is not on the 2014 edition of the Bulldog softball squad. Manon's departure takes with her an additional 53 innings of experience and a 3-5 mark in 12 games played with 32 strikeouts and a 1.84 ERA.

With 91 percent of the Bulldogs' pitching innings experience gone, the spotlight will be on the sophomore trio of Josee Hale, Anna Riggenbach and Brooklyn Miller to carry the load for the DHS pitching staff. Despite their varsity inexperience, their head coach is supremely confident in their potential for success in 2014.

"Obviously, we won't be as dominant on the mound when you lose a girl like Bry," explained Zipfel, " But we are definitely confident in the pitching we have back. Josee, Brooklyn and Anna may not have the varsity experience of seniors but we're confident in their ability and what they can do.

"We finished strong last year, finished strong in the summer and we're banking that it will be strong again this season."

Zipfel has elected not to set an established lineup entering the campaign in order to foster competition and improvement among the Lady Bulldogs.

"We like to stress that positions are open at all times and not put that into stone," continued the DHS mentor. "The girls need to go out and bust it every day in practice and in games.

Concluded Zipfel: "If we take care of our attitude and learn to compete properly, we have the talent level and the program to have a lot of success. I hope to see all the hard work we've put in to this point manifest itself. I'm confident that we've made improvements, no doubt about it. It will be incumbent upon the girls to work on that and build upon what we've already established."

The Lady Bulldogs will begin their season on the road, traveling to Wauseon on Saturday before opening up their home slate of games March 31 against Liberty Center. The Western Buckeye League slate will begin with a road trip to Shawnee on April 8.

Schedule

3-29 Wauseon A

3-31 L. Center H

4-1 Napoleon A

4-3 Archbold A

4-4 BG H

4-5 Antwerp A

4-7 Tinora A

4-8 Shawnee A

4-11 Kenton H

4-12 Great 8 Tourney A

4-15 Elida H

4-17 Bath A

4-19 Bryan (DH) H

4-19 Tiffin Col. A

4-21 Fairview A

4-22 Celina A

4-22 Celina H

4-25 O-G H

4-26 Perrysburg A

4-29 Wapak A

5-2 St. Marys H

5-3 Findlay H

5-6 Van Wert A

5-8 Clay H

5-15 Paulding A

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