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Spring is in the air for Shepherd's baseball, softball teams

February 21, 2008|By LARRY YANOS

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Even as snowflakes fell to the ground, the feeling of spring was in the air at Shepherd University on Wednesday as the school's softball and baseball coaches discussed the upcoming season.

First-year softball coach Leslie Lopez - Shepherd's first full-time coach - said the Rams will again be competitive in 2008.

The Rams went 31-9 in 2007, winning the West Virginia Conference Tournament and earning a berth in the Great Lakes Regional. Twelve players return from that team, including six starters.

"The players have stepped into roles and we have many versatile athletes who can play a number of positions on the field," Lopez said.

Junior Jen Clark, a transfer from Hagerstown Community College, is projected as the starting third baseman and will likely be joined in the infield by shortstop Cammie Orlandi, second baseman Jodie Sites and first baseman Jamie Griffin.

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The outfield should consist of returnees Rae Johnson, April Przygocki and Amy Edmondson, while Amanda Orkoskey and Caitlin Davis will handle the catching chores.

Pitching-wise, Lopez faces the difficult task of replacing 23 wins: Mia Zappacosta won 14 games and Alicia Brandenburg won nine more in 2007.

What are the Rams' goals for 2008?

"We want to win the conference title and make the NCAA playoffs," Lopez said. "We have a very tough early schedule in South Carolina and Virginia and we must adjust to that. We play nine games on the road before playing here at Shepherd."

Lopez, 25, is a 2004 graduate of Bethany College, where she was a four-year standout in softball for the Bison. She was a three-time All-Region selection and a two-time Academic All-American.

She comes to Shepherd University after serving as an assistant softball coach at Slippery Rock University for the past two years.

The Rams start their season at the Francis Marion Patriot Invitational in Florence, S.C., on March 7.

Veteran baseball coach Wayne Riser is expecting good things this season.

"We have high expectations and goals, despite a very difficult schedule," Riser said. "We certainly weren't satisfied with our performance in 2007 (the Rams went 20-23). I feel we can do much better than that."

Riser, 42, has posted a 381-294-2 record in 17 seasons at Shepherd. He said he has a good nucleus of players to erase the memories of last year's losing campaign.

Riser's "dream" in 2008 is to win the WVIAC and regional titles and advance to the College World Series.

"Will it be tough? Yes. Is it possible? Yes," Riser said. "A lot of things have to go your way when you're playing 53 games - weather, scheduling, staying healthy. A lot of things have to go right to have everything fall into place."

Shepherd will get an early challenge - visiting West Virginia State on Saturday and Sunday. West Virginia State defeated Shepherd 11-6 in the WVIAC Tournament final last season.

"Last year, We had 16 new players, including 12 freshmen, and it took them a long time to believe in their abilities," Riser said. "It was frustrating, for the most part. We finally started to play decent baseball late in the season.

"I make no guarantees to improve, but our players - especially the pitching staff - went through growing pains in 2007 and should be better because of that."

Junior Brandon Armentrout, a Martinsburg graduate, is expected to lead the pitching staff. He posted a 5-3 record and 4.47 ERA last season.

Other prominent members of the pitching staff are Dirk Webb, Charlie Gordon, Matt McCarty, Freddie Peters, Kenny Reisinger and Patrick Smith.

The Rams return their entire starting infield from 2007: Webb at first base, Drew McCormick at second base, Josh Wenderoth at shortstop and Joey Hayes at third base.

The outfield will consist of Justin Dailey, Chris Wilkins and Trey Stewart while Anthony Jackson and Brett Caplan will complete for the starting catching position.

"I really expect Dailey to have a big year," Riser said. "He played hurt all of last year and still batted .314."

Shepherd's home opener is March 1 - a doubleheader against Post University.

Riser, who graduated from Shepherd in 1989 with a bachelor of arts degree in secondary education, recently earned a master's degree in curriculum and instruction from Shepherd.

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