Last year the Indian Hills Lady Braves celebrated the most successful year in the history of the softball program. The Braves won the Triple Crown, taking home league, county and state sectional titles before finishing the season with an overall Group II state championship.
Despite the amazing season and all the tremendous accomplishments, Coach Joe Leicht doesn’t want to recall the previous season.
“You have to approach it almost as if last year never happened,” he said, explaining how it’s important not to constantly recall on last year. “Everybody wants to have the best team that they could possibly have that particular year.”
This year, the Lady Braves may have a similar look with a large core of players back, but they’re hungry to add more trophies to their case as the 2011 Lady Braves.
Last season the Braves thrived with the most dominant pitcher in North Jersey, and maybe the state, Katie Enright. In a pitcher rich Indian Hills program, Enright shined brighter than the rest, finishing her career as the all-time leader in just about every pitching category. She capped off her career by besting IH single-season records with a 31-2 senior season in which she struck out 322, had an 0.27 ERA while throwing 21 shutouts.
“Without question she was the most dominant pitcher we’ve ever had in this program,” said Coach Leicht.
So how do you replace a player of that caliber? Leicht believes that he has five pitchers who could contribute at the varsity level, but if the season were to start today he says that Enright’s battery mate from last year, Ashley DeYoung, would be in the circle.
“She had a pitcher’s mindset, and that helped her as far as calling games were concerned,” Leicht said. “She has to step up with what she learned from that and be the best pitcher she can be.”
Much like at the pitcher position, Coach Leicht believes he has a “wealth of candidates” to move into vacancies in the starting lineup left by the departure of seniors Perri Goldberg (centerfield) and Danielle Brogan (shortstop).
Coach admits that there’s nothing like a senior, especially a four-year senior, but he has a deep roster that can go two to three deep at some positions.
“You wish you can field an 18 man team. That’s how many people that we have,” said coach about his wealth of talented players.
Several of those players gained great experience during last year’s run and look to improve on terrific 2010 campaigns. With the return of six players who batted regularly on last year’s lineup, Coach Leicht believes the offense will be improved this season. “We would kind of be disappointed if we don’t have a better offensive team even than we had last year,” he said.
Here are some of the key returners to this year’s team:
Kelly Strittmatter- .374 AVG, 24 steals, .963 fielding %
Strittmatter is a four-year varsity player who never makes a mistake. In three years at second base, she has had about 500 chances and only seven errors. “She’s a vacuum cleaner on the right side, she’s outstanding. You almost have five infielders with her,” said Leicht of his 2nd team all-county and 3rd team all-state leadoff hitter. “She’s invaluable at the top of the lineup; never strikes out, always makes contact.”
Ashley DeYoung- .405AVG, .577 slugging, 31 RBI
DeYoung might become the starting pitcher this year after becoming a 3rd team all-state catcher a season ago. Coach Leicht says that at the plate the junior is “fearsome.” “She makes contact, she hits the ball hard; you make a mistake it’s going to leave the park.”
Nicole Paiotti- .383 AVG, 20 RBI, 52 total bases
Coach Leicht knew Paiotti was going to be good as a freshman, but she was even better than expected. The third baseman finished third on the team in average and total bases while commanding the hot corner from opening day on. “She was really the glue that kind of made that lineup come together in the fifth spot,” said her coach. This year as a sophomore, Paiotti will remain a “vital part of our lineup,” moving into the cleanup spot.
Chelsea Graber- .273 AVG, 10 RBI
Another four-year player, the lefty can hit for power, moving her into the five or six slot in the lineup this year.
Kara Pepper- .333 AVG, 17 runs, 10 RBI
Coach Leicht called Pepper an “excellent player, (who) came on big time in the outfield” last season. She hit the grounder that won the county tourney, and showed off the power game in Monday’s scrimmage by leaving the yard for a homerun.
Carey Houston- .386 AVG, 16 runs, 11 steals
Now in her 3rd year of V as a junior, last year’s right fielder may be moving over to center this year. “She runs like a deer and she throws great,” said Leicht of his probable two hitter this year. “She always makes contact, can bunt, can hit and run.”
In addition to the key returners, Coach Leicht also believes that several players will step up and contribute greatly in 2011. Look out for Morgan Levine, Christie Testa, and freshman Nicole Leocata to move into big roles this year. Levine got some experience at EH last year, and has been working hard in the offseason. Like Pepper, she flexed her muscles and hit one out in Monday’s scrimmage.
The pieces are there for the Braves, but the number one goal for Leicht and his coaches is to get the most they can out of every player on the field. “If each player is the best player they could possibly be, then you’re going to end up being the best team you could possibly be,” said Leicht.
As a team, the top goal is to win the division first, then go from there. Coach believes that once you win the division then the league, you qualify for the counties and states and have a chance to win those as well.
“If you work hard and go each step one at a time, you have a chance to have a pretty good year again,” he said.
The 2011 Lady Braves have great potential but Leicht says, “potential is interesting, performance is everything.” If Indian Hills performs to their potential they have a chance to remain the class of the Big North, Bergen County, and perhaps even all of Group II.
“We have the pieces. If the chemistry comes together, if we get that break or two when we feel we need it, we have a chance to be a pretty good club,” said Coach Leicht.