Three juniors named First Team All-HCAC
May 7, 2014
BLUFFTON, Ohio - A record-setting offensive outburst by the Bluffton University softball team paid huge dividends when the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference hardware was handed out following the 2014 season. The Beavers were rewarded with three first team honorees, two second team selections and an honorable mention award winner. Juniors Jess Kuzara (Flat Rock, Mich./Huron), Brittany Baker (Springboro) and Ariana Muffo (New Athens, Ill.) were all honored as All-HCAC First Team, while fellow junior Jo Bondra (Highland Heights/Mayfield) and freshman Emily Scupholm (Cuyahoga Falls/Our Lady of the Elms) both secured second team recognition.
Providing the punch in the heart of Bluffton's lineup was junior Jess Kuzara who ranked at or near the top of all offensive categories in the Heartland Conference. Her 58 hits, 41 runs and 39 RBI all topped the HCAC this season. Kuzara came in second with a .426 batting average, three triples and a .484 on-base percentage, while her .676 slugging percentage and five home runs were the third-highest totals in the conference. She also made her presence known in the Bluffton record books as her 41 runs scored was just one off Mollie Brown's school-record 42 in 2008. Kuzara also stands in the top 10 all-time for a single season in batting average (5th), slugging percentage (5th), on-base percentage (9th), hits (tied for 2nd) doubles (5th), RBI (3rd), total bases (3rd) and homers (tied for 4th). She collected 14 walks and struck out just eight times.
A batting average that was up over 150 points from her sophomore campaign propelled Kuzara into the career record books as well. She is currently 5th all-time with a .344 batting average while her .541 slugging percentage is tied for 4th all-time. Her record-shattering 2014 campaign has Kuzara in line to move to the top of Bluffton's all-time lists for runs, hits, doubles, RBI and total bases. She is currently 8th with 76 runs scored, 10th with 110 hits, 6th with 25 doubles, 5th with four triples, 3rd with 10 dingers, 7th with 70 RBI and 6th with 173 total bases.
Although Brittany Baker struggled to find her rhythm offensively in Florida, the cold Ohio air brought out the best in Bluffton's talented second baseman as she pounded the Heartland Conference pitching to the tune of an HCAC-best 27 hits and 21 runs in league play. She also finished in the top six during conference contests with eight doubles, three home runs, 20 RBI, a .466 batting average, a .759 slugging percentage and a .508 on-base percentage. Baker had a career day at Franklin when she set the school record with five hits in a game, finishing the crucial conference doubleheader with seven hits, 10 RBI and four runs scored en route to HCAC Player of the Week honors. Baker's 37 runs scored are the fifth most for a single season at Bluffton, while her 15 doubles are second all-time. She also stands in the top 10 with 50 hits, 30 RBI and 74 total bases.
Baker is currently 9th all-time with a .461 slugging percentage. Her 60 runs scored, 92 hits, 25 doubles, eight home runs, 60 RBI and 141 total bases are also in the top 20 career lists for Bluffton University softball with her senior campaign still on the horizon. She ranks 7th all-time with 386 putouts and her 144 assists are currently tied for 12th all time.
The final junior in Bluffton's trio of First Team All-HCAC honorees is Ariana Muffo. Her work behind the dish is second to none in the conference and that is just part of Muffo's story. Setting the table for the Beavers during the second half of the season, Muffo's 39 runs scored was second in the HCAC, behind teammate Jess Kuzara who crossed the dish 41 times. Bluffton's leadoff hitter ranked in the top five in the HCAC with 14 two-baggers, five home runs and 15 walks. Her .565 slugging percentage is 8th all-time, while her 39 runs and 14 doubles are tied for 4th on the single-season lists. She finished with 74 total bases (tied for 6th) and her 45 hits this season are tied for 13th all-time. Muffo's five long balls place her in a seven-way tie for 4th all-time.
With two seasons in the book, Muffo is 3rd all-time with a ridiculous .369 career batting average and .556 slugging percentage. Her .431 on-base percentage is 6th on the career list while her 24 doubles are 8th all-time. She is 9th at Bluffton with seven home runs and Muffo is also moving up the career record books with 134 total bases, 53 RBI, 89 hits and 63 runs scored despite missing her entire freshman campaign with an injured shoulder.
Jo Bondra took full advantage of her first season in the starting lineup. The junior put together a phenomenal Heartland Conference campaign at first base. She hit .412 (11th) in conference games, with 21 RBI which was the third-highest total this season. Bondra also placed near the top of the conference with 21 hits, seven walks and a .467 on-base percentage in HCAC games. She was a clutch hitter all season and her work in the infield also showed up in Bluffton's single season record book as Bondra tops the all-time lists with 314 putouts and 332 chances.
Freshman Emily Scupholm worked primarily out of the bullpen during the month of March, but once she joined the starting rotation in April, Bluffton's Heartland Conference opponents were forced to take notice. She walked away with Second Team All-HCAC honors after going 6-1 with a modest 2.12 earned run average in conference play which placed her second in the HCAC. Scupholm's 2.60 overall ERA was 4th in the conference and her 10 victories were 6th in the conference. Her three shutouts tied Scupholm for 7th all-time at Bluffton in a single season.
Making her third All-Heartland Conference appearance was senior Shelby Erford (Paulding). A Second Team All-HCAC selection a year ago and an honorable mention choice as a freshman, Erford capped off her final campaign at Bluffton by being selected honorable mention All-HCAC. Erford re-made herself as a slap hitter for her final two seasons and the move paid off as she finished her career 19th all-time with a .302 batting average and 20th all-time with a .394 slugging percentage. She is 4th all-time in runs (92), 7th in hits (131), 4th in games played and started (155), 5th in at bats (434), 7th in home runs (8), 8th in total bases (171), 15th in RBI (52), 12th in stolen bases (24), 2nd in assists (338 was just one shy of Shelly Hickman's school mark), 4th in chances (690) and 12th in putouts (285).
In conjunction with the All-Heartland Conference awards, the conference has announced the All-HCAC Sportsmanship Team for 2014. This award has been developed as part of a conference-wide sportsmanship initiative. Members of the All-HCAC Sportsmanship team are selected by the coaches and their teammates as individuals who demonstrate the ideals of positive sportsmanship both on and off the field/court of competition. Bluffton senior Chelsea Weitz (Dayton/Carroll) was recognized for her sportsmanship this season.
The Bluffton University softball team fashioned one of the best seasons in school history when its band of 13 capped off the year with a first-ever trip to the HCAC championship game since the tournament went to four teams in 2007. The Beavers scalded the ball offensively, hitting a school-record .330 which was 20 points higher than the previous best of .310 in 2008. Bluffton also set school marks with 381 hits, 212 RBI, 511 total bases and 251 runs, while the 26 victories this season was bested only by the 2009 squad that went 30-13.