Softball goes 7-1 in fall, looks to build strength

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After losing superstar pitchers Jenni Holtz and Kari Chambers, speedster Anna Johnson and starting second baseman Amanda Santa Maria to graduation, things weren’t looking very bright for the Lady Bears softball squad. It also didn’t help when they got word of the sudden departure of Head Coach Mike Raynor after the spring semester of 2011. The immediate future of Mercer softball was uncertain. Step one was to find a new head coach who was capable for the job at hand. They did just that in the form of former LSU associate head coach, James DeFeo.
With five incoming freshmen and a fall schedule of eight games in their path, the softball squad began down their new track with high hopes surrounding the dugout.
Being the lone new staff member, DeFeo came fresh off the plane and into game situations to see what his new club was made of. The transition was different for both the DeFeo Family and the squad awaiting their new system behind a new head coach. When asked what she thought of her new head coach, junior pitcher Kerri Nidiffer said, “He is actually ‘coaching’ us and doing whatever he can to make us better individually and as a whole.” The whole teams seems to be in agreement with the statement as emotions and feelings toward the new face have been nothing but positive.
The fall schedule began during the first week of September. The eight-game span gave DeFeo and the players an opportunity to see what they are made of. It gives them a good idea of what issues need to be addressed and what areas could use some retuning. “The fall games are a chance for everyone to play. We get to see what we have out there,” said DeFeo. “This is my first time seeing these girls perform as well,” he added.
The new head coach and the young squad performed well with all things considered as they capped their fall season with a 7-1 overall record. They ended in great fashion as they cranked six home runs and two grand slams in a 17-2 drubbing in their final game. The team even won “Varsity Sport of the Month” for October in the “Strength and Conditioning” category. “The offense really hit their stride toward the end of the fall schedule,” DeFeo said. “They are able to score in so many ways. We are not just one-dimensional. We will have speed, power and a lot of strength overall. We will definitely be attacking in each game,” he added.
With their lone loss coming at the hands of Emory, the softball squad is showing that they are more diverse and well-rounded than others give them credit for. “Things around here have definitely changed for the better. The atmosphere is just different. People are more excited to be here and attitudes are extremely better,” said Nidiffer.
Having played against mostly junior colleges and other in-state universities, Mercer will definitely need to continue their hard work of conditioning and positive attitudes in hopes for a successful season come February.
With minimal experience on their pitching staff, DeFeo says they are breaking each pitch down to build consistency and work on getting stronger.
The 2012 spring schedule is due to be released shortly as the season is expected to begin in the second week of February. Meanwhile, the team continues to improve with weight-lifting and individual practices three times a week.
“I am new and there are lots of things changing, but these girls are committing to the process,” said the first year head coach. “I want to invite everyone out to watch us. Our goal is to win the crowd. We are going to be exciting to watch. There is no doubt about that,” he added.
After going 32-24 in 2011 under Head Coach Mike Raynor, James DeFeo hopes to pull the right strings in his first season at Mercer. Being his first year as a true head coach of a collegiate squad, he looks to continue his impressive streak of never being a part of a losing season.

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