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Optimistic Rams softball team looks for realistic results

March 03, 2001

Optimistic Rams softball team looks for realistic results



By BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - V.J. Brown has goals of the ultimate optimist.

Meanwhile, Amanda Fleming is anchored in realism.

And if the Shepherd College softball team can find a middle ground between the views of its interim head coach and record-setting junior first baseman, the Rams could be in store for a solid season.

Shepherd opens the 2001 season at Davis & Elkins in what will be the first steps in the season to end all seasons in Brown's eyes or the early season crossroads in Fleming's estimation.

"I want to win every game we play this year," said Brown. "I hate to lose. Can you think of any greater goal than to win every game you play?"

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Brown, who is the chair of Shepherd's sociology department, took over the job as the Rams manager two weeks ago when Chip Ransom stepped down for personal reasons. It is his first head coaching job, but he has 17 years of baseball and softball experience and a family background in baseball.

And he has set high goals for the Rams.

"I'm new at this," Brown admits. "My dad played for the Washington Senators and the St. Louis Browns and my brother played in the New York Yankees organization. Sports are in my blood. I'm a socioligist. I make goals fairly easy. I've always wanted to coach and now I got the opportunity, but I'm only thinking about the present. I figure if we go 51-0, we'll win the national championship and I won't have to worry about coaching again."

But since Brown got the late start and the weather has only allowed Shepherd to have three outdoor practices, running the table seems to be a longshot, especially after the Rams' 17-18 record last season.

"If we start off with two wins against D&E, we'll be OK," Fleming said. "If we don't, we could have some trouble. It's good that we start against D&E because they are one of the weaker teams in the conference, but then we face West Virginia Wesleyan on Sunday and they are one of the favorites. We need a quick start."

Shepherd plays 28 of its 40 games on the road this season, which could make a sluggish start take a turn into a long season.

The Rams will be counting on deep pitching and a power-laden offense to get off on the right foot. Shepherd has 11 returnees who will man most of the lineup except catcher.

Jill Hood returns as Shepherd's top pitcher after going 8-9 last season and earning special honorable mention on the All-WVIAC team. Brown looks for even more out of the sophomore from Middletown.

"We have some good potential at pitcher and we have one who could be our ace," Brown said. "We will start Jill in one of the games on Saturday and we might bring her back for one on Sunday."

Hood, who struck out 99 batters in 105 innings, will be backed by Williamsport's Shannon Smiles and Martinsburg's Mara Kafton along with Angie Jeffries, Jessica Sturgill and Natalie Cushion.

The catching duties will go to freshman Amanda Butts, a Musselman graduate, while South Hagerstown's Kelsi Waltemire and Jefferson's Beth Vickers will also see time behind the plate.

"We lost our catcher from last year, but (Butts) is coming in and she has a better arm, so she will really help us," Fleming said.

The right side of Shepherd's infield is set with Hancock's Fleming at first and Shea Sirbaugh of Berkeley Springs at second. Fleming was Shepherd's leading hitter last season with a .443 batting average along with seven home runs and 14 doubles - both school records - and 45 RBI.

Sirbaugh, a All-WVIAC first-teamer, was second on the team with a .434 average while scoring a team-high 35 runs.

Cushion, Shepherd's only senior, is slated to start at third base, backed by sophomore Nicole Gantt and Williamsport freshman Lee Graff. Brigette Boyle and Sturgill will vie for the starting shortstop spot.

The outfield looks like anyone not pitching is patroling. Hood, Kafton, Smiles and Jefferies will get time. Starters Chrissy Ashley and Melanie Okun also return.

Brown has the ingredients to take Shepherd places.

"We have a lot of power and a lot of hitting, but I don't know about the defense," he said. "I'm ready for this, but it's the ladies you have to look at. I'll know a lot more about this team after this weekend. They will get the chance to get away from school and get playing. They are motivated and they are up to it."

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