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HEBRON ESTATES - With six experienced seniors returning from last year’s 24th District Champions, the North Bullitt Lady Eagles are looking for big results during the 2010 season.
The good news is that the program is stable at the top with the return of head coach Eric Lambert. This will be his second season as the leader after the program went through a series of coaching changes the previous few years.
Other than a junior class with only two players, the program is solid. Lambert said that 45 players came out for the first practice and he had to cut that number down to 30.
“Part of that is the recent success spurs that,” the coach said before a practice last week. “The first five years I was here (as an assistant coach) we didn’t have numbers like that. It shows that we have a lot who want to be part of the program.”
There is no doubt that the Lady Eagles will be one of the top teams in the 24th District as well as the Sixth Region. Still, there are some holes that need to be filled including the lead pitching position.
“Certainly we wanted to raise the bar and we did that,” Lambert said of winning another district title. “The kids are working hard, but we’re replacing some big holes with the seniors that we did lose.”
The Lady Eagles won their second straight 24th District title last season and then reached the Sixth Region semi-finals before losing to Butler 1-0 in a game that had just two hits. While Lambert split the pitching chores between Cierra Hayes and Erin Cox last season, it was the senior Hayes who did all the pitching in the post-season.
Lambert doesn’t like to use one pitcher all season, so this spring senior Sheridan Hamilton will join Cox to do the pitching. Still, Cox, a junior, will pitch in a lot of key situations.
“We’re looking for the same things this year,” Lambert said of his pitching duo. “I don’t want to rely on one pitcher. Some teams do that and are successful. I want to go with two and keep one fresh.
“Erin is a little further along than Sheridan,” the coach added. “She just has the experience. Both are solid. The key is the defense behind them.”
Or the one defensive player in front of them - catcher Breanna Kuffner. One of the top players in the Sixth Region, Kuffner, a senior, caught just about every inning last season and has been behind the plate the last four seasons.
“She is a work horse,” Lambert said. “Obviously with her experience and her ability we have high expectations. She is as strong as anyone in the program. The biggest thing is her work ethic.”
If North Bullitt does need to rest Kuffner, the top two candidates to step in would be either freshman Brooke Adams or eighth-grader Brianna Johnson.
Around the infield, sophomore Darian Davenport will be at first base and she will be backed up by either Hamilton or seventh-grader Jordan Vorbrink.
The big holes that the Lady Eagles have to fill at in the middle of the infield. Hayes was the shortstop when she wasn’t pitching (switching with Cox) while Brandi Finn was at second.
At second base, freshman Caitlin Crowder will get a look and Vorbrink could also step in at that spot. Sophomore Taylor Humphrey is also a candidate for playing time. Cox will play some at shortstop when she is not pitching, but when she does take the mound, Vorbrink could be at shortstop or freshman Devan Benz could be playing.
There is no question that if she is healthy that senior Leah Cherry will be at third base, but she has battled injuries during the pre-season. If she can’t go, then either Benz or Davenport will be at the hot corner.
The positions are also pretty stable in the outfield. Hamilton will start in centerfield if she is not pitching and she will be flanked by seniors Margaret Flowers and Kayla Middleton. If needed, eighth-grader Breanna Sherrard or Taylor Whitehead, a senior, will move into one of the outfield slots.
“Right now the big question mark is the middle infield,” Lambert said. “We have the ability there, but nobody is separating themselves. Nobody looks better than the others.”
Lambert has altered his coaching staff some. Greg Vorbrink has moved from the freshman coach to the junior-varsity spot. The freshman coach is now Terra Shaver. Terrance Bruner will work as a volunteer coach.
North Bullitt will open the season on Monday at home against district rival Fairdale. Lambert has not jammed games into the schedule this season, but they do play most of the top teams in the Sixth Region including a rematch on Tuesday against Butler. The coach just doesn’t want to play lower level squads to fill out the schedule. Instead, the coach feels they get more out a practice session.
“Last year we could win one run games,” Lambert concluded. “This year with Hayes not here we feel we need to score more runs. Defense is what we practice first, but we put a new emphasis on the hitting. With the mound moved back (from 40 to 43 feet) we want to increase the runs per game.”