Mix of veterans and youth have Coach Bruder excited about 2012
February 10, 2012
By: Evan Skilliter, sports information assistant
The Bluffton University Softball team will count on a standout mix of veteran players and talented youth as the Beavers look to better last year's 19-16 overall record and 11-5 mark in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference. Head Coach Heather Bruder's squad will compete for the conference crown with a roster consisting of three seniors, one junior, five sophomores and 14 freshmen.
Bruder enters her sixth season as head coach for the Beavers with an overall record of 106-86, including a 56-23 (.709 winning percentage) in HCAC games. Brooke Babcock is in her second season as an assistant to Coach Bruder, two years removed from her own decorated playing days at Bluffton University.
The Beavers have set some lofty goals for the upcoming season. Coach Bruder stated, "I believe we have the talent to finish on top of the HCAC." Bluffton was picked third overall, behind Anderson and Transylvania, respectively, in the HCAC preseason coaches' poll with 61 points. Coach Bruder has led the Beavers to the four-team Heartland Conference tournament each of her five seasons at the helm, making Bluffton the only team with that distinction on its resume.
This spring, the Beavers will try improve on last year's third place HCAC finish with only one 2011 graduate missing from that squad. Tiffany Buckmaster's leadership both on and off the field will be missed as she embarks on her first season as the graduate assistant at NCAA Division II Columbus State University. However, Coach Bruder has a host of young talent she will look to fill that gap. "All 14 (freshmen) are tough," said Bruder. "I have a great problem. I have some talent that, if they were on any other team, they would probably start in their respective positions. I'm excited to find out how I'm going to use them."
Lindsay Robertson (Cincinnati/Northwest) will compete for a spot on the hot corner while fellow freshman and middle infielder Brittany Baker (Springboro) will likely see playing time at second base.
Sophomore Kayla Owens (Cincinnati/McAuley) is the Beavers' top returning pitcher from 2011. Last season, Owens went 5-8 while striking out 41 batters in 91.1 innings and maintaining a respectable 4.62 earned run average in the circle. Shelby Erford (Paulding) returns to shortstop for her sophomore season. As a freshman, Erford finished fourth on the team in batting average (.327), first in slugging percentage (.510) and home runs (5), and second in RBI (22). She earned HCAC honorable mention for her 2011 performance.
Providing an outstanding foundation for the youthful talent, Coach Bruder will look to three seniors that all turned in superb seasons in 2011. Meagan Price (Toledo/Springfield) earned First Team All-Heartland Conference honors, hitting a career-high .316 with a .445 on-base percentage last season. The top-notch backstop equaled Erford with five dingers and a team-best 28 runs scored. She was also a terror for her counterparts behind the plate with 12 steals on 12 attempts thanks in part to a Bluffton season-record 23 walks.
Chelsie Osborne (Chillicothe/Waverly) led the team with a .380 batting average last season while driving in 23 runs and scoring 18 times. A starting middle infielder throughout her career at Bluffton, Osborne may find a home in left field when the Beavers open their 2012 campaign in Florida. First baseman Emily Manahan (Columbus/Bishop Waterson) hit .344 a season ago with 18 RBI and a team-high nine doubles.
The Beavers will open their season on March 5th in Florida when they take their annual spring break trip to Kissimmee to play in the Rebel Spring Games. They meet Catholic University from Washington D.C. and Beloit from Wisconsin on day one. After 12 games in Florida, the Beavers head back north and travel to Adrian on March 14 for a non-conference match-up with the always-tough Bulldogs of the MIAA. The home opener for the Beavers will take place on March 16 when they host Coach Bruder's alma mater, the Alma Scots, at 3:30 p.m. Bluffton kicks off HCAC play with Mount St. Joseph on March 31 (2 p.m.) at Bluffton Field.