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Lady Spartans mix youth and experience

A quick glance at Castleton’s softball roster for the 2011 season may indicate an inexperienced team, but third-year head coach John Werner has a different interpretation on that topic.”We have a good balance of experience and youth which should make us successful this season,” Werner said. “We are optimistic about the season and making a run at the (North Atlantic Conference) championship.”

Castleton will have to rely on its pitching staff to guide the way.

“We need a big year from both Taylor [Lively] and Emily [Sweeney] allowing Stacie [Bushman] to develop,” Werner said.

Lively, a sophomore, will replace Hilary Bemis, who graduated, as the top starter on the staff. Lively comes off of a pretty successful freshman campaign as the second in the rotation compiling a 5-4 overall record, 5.89 ERA and an impressive 52-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Lively has big shoes to fill considering what Bemis did for the program last season posting a 9-9 overall record with a 4.19 ERA to lead the rotation. She was also selected to the NAC All-Conference First-Team for her hitting prowess after finishing the season with a .306 batting average, a team-leading 24 runs-scored, six doubles, four home runs and 30 RBI.

“It’s always tough to lose a great player,” said Werner of Bemis, who impacted the Spartans on both sides of the diamond.

Lively and Sweeney, also a sophomore, will compliment each other well in the doubleheader format that softball plays because of their contrasting styles.

“Taylor [Lively] throws hard and has great control which is a tough combination for hitters,” Werner said. “Emily [Sweeney] throws more ‘stuff’ so they should keep hitters off balance in doubleheaders.”

Bushman, only a freshman, is a left-handed starter that looks promising for Castleton and will look to learn from Lively and Sweeney all season. She also may see some time in the starting lineup as a designated player when she is not pitching.

As for the lineup, the Spartans will feature arguably one of the best hitters in the conference in sophomore shortstop Megan Blongy. Last season, Blongy batted a whopping .473 at the plate – third in the NAC – had an on-base percentage of .495 and swiped 11-of-16 bags. Blongy can also flash the leather, ranking second among all shortstops in the conference with a .969 fielding percentage.

Third baseman Shannon Jipner will provide most of the pop in the lineup as she cranked three home runs last spring, notched three doubles, one triple and batted in 13 runs. Second baseman Mercedes Maltbie also provides some extra base hitting power as the sophomore middle infielder hit a team-leading nine doubles in 2010 and finished second on the team in RBI with 13.

The Spartans open their season in sunny Salem, Virginia at the Roanoke Valley Softball Bash on Saturday, March 12 against Ferrum. Castleton’s first home contest is against SUNY-Cobleskill at 3 pm on Thursday, April 4.