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Raider softball aims for 2011 conference title

The 2011 Raider softball team

Seminole State College Head Softball Coach Courtney Miller expects good things from her team in 2011. Despite losing seven starters and returning only two, she says her squad has the talent and versatility to compete for the Mid-Florida Conference (MFC) championship.

"We're a young team, for sure, but we have the potential to do very well," Miller says. "We have athletes who can play multiple positions and are good sticks off the bench, and that's what you need to succeed at this level."

Last year the Raiders achieved a 39-15-1 (16-8 MFC) regular-season record and cruised through three rounds of the Florida Community College Activities Association (FCCAA) state tournament before falling to national champion Miami Dade College. Led by first-team all-American Hope Bitzer, the Raiders finished second in the Atlantic District and 17th in the nation.

The Raiders hope to make a repeat trip to the tournament in 2011 and will rely on their offensive prowess to get there, Miller says.

"Without a doubt, our strength this year is our offense," she says. "We have more power and depth off the bench than we did last year, which will help us win games."

Commanding the team at the plate will be all-state athlete Christina Baranet and newcomer Kristie Hoeffer. Baranet, a returning starter from DeLand, was the team's top hitter in 2010, boasting a .413 record, 34 stolen bases, 41 runs and 16 RBIs. Hoeffer, a freshman from Gloucester, Va., was the leading hitter during the fall exhibition season.

"These two athletes are going to drive our offense," Miller says. "Christina's speed and base-stealing abilities are probably the best in the state, and Kristie has the potential to break the school record for hitting. They're that good."

In the Circle

With Bitzer and back-up pitcher Tiffany Ragans gone, Miller will split throwing duties among three promising freshmen: Lauren Vinson, Myraida Figueroa and Lindsey Nolan. Pitching by committee, she says, is essential for keeping opponents on their toes.

"We'll need all three pitchers to win the conference this year," Miller says. "They each bring something different to the mound, which should keep teams off balance."

Vinson, a top recruit from Prince George, Va., will be a dual threat for the Raiders, putting in several innings for the pitching staff and excelling at bat. She was one of the top hitters in the fall and led the team in RBIs.

Figueroa, a University High School graduate from Orlando, had the lowest ERA during fall play. A drop-ball pitcher, she will likely be called on to shut down some of the top-hitting teams in the MFC.

Nolan, of Mulberry, showed significant improvement during the fall season. The lone southpaw on the staff, she will keep opponents guessing with her locations and spins, Miller says.

Behind the Plate

Sophomore Amanda VanKleeck and freshman Jordan Cook will split duties behind the plate, filling a void left by all-conference picks Ashley Frost and Kelly Karshner.

VanKleeck, a Pine Ridge High School graduate from Deltona, served as a back-up catcher in 2009 and was redshirted in 2010. She is expected to re-emerge a position leader in 2011.

Cook, of Fruitland Park, has the talent and power at the plate to cover all fields, Miller says. She and VanKleeck should give the Raiders solid innings throughout the season.

Infield

Sophomore Tara Turner will anchor the infield, primarily covering first base but also seeing time at third. The all-conference athlete from Lake Mary started 44 games in 2010, notching 229 putouts, 27 assists and a .962 fielding percentage.

"Tara has a lot of game experience under her belt," Miller says. "We will rely on her heavily to lead the infield."

Turner, the Raiders' 2010 Outstanding Freshman of the Year, should also put up big numbers at bat. Last season she hit .316 and had 19 runs and 21 RBIs. In the fall she scored a team-leading three home runs.

Returners Kayla Ramey and Coryn Novak will assist Turner and should see a lot of playing time. Ramey, of Cape Coral, made the switch from shortstop to second this fall and has used her speed and agility to make big plays for the infield. Novak, of Clermont, has progressed steadily and will add depth at first and second.

Four freshmen will fill out the infield, with Hoeffer and Jessica Gipson serving as middle infielders, and Ashley Cline and Kaylee Tabor giving strength to the corner positions.

Gipson, a Mount Dora Bible School graduate from Sorrento, has "incredible defensive skills," Miller says, and "one of the strongest and most accurate arms on the team."

Cline, a Lake Brantley High School graduate from Altamonte Springs, will return to the diamond after suffering a broken foot in the fall. She is expected to add increasing power to the first- and third-base positions as she continues to heal and adjust her game.

Tabor, a Seminole High School graduate from Lake Mary, has shown significant improvement on defense. She will take on most of the third-base duties this season.

Cline and Tabor also should make big plays at the plate as two of the top hitters in Seminole County as high school seniors.

Outfield

Baranet, a leftfielder in 2010, will command the Raider defense from center field this season. Her leadership and experience will be crucial, Miller says, and will play an integral role in keeping the defense together.

Returners Lauren Miller, Erica Tollett and Andrea Carnes will assist Baranet in the outfield and get valuable playing time on defense.

Lauren Miller, a Lake Brantley High School graduate from Longwood, has a strong arm and a quick jump to the ball. She also has the potential to be a solid hitter at the plate.

Tollett, a Hagerty High School graduate from Oviedo, is the Raiders' most improved outfielder. She primarily saw action as a designated player and pinch hitter in 2010, earning accolades for her ability to deliver game-winning hits in high-pressure situations.

Carnes, of Orange Park, has one of the team's strongest and most accurate arms, which will give the Raiders an edge in critical defensive situations.

Freshmen Alexis Schlotter, of Cape Coral, and Carly Wolff, of Valrico, round out the outfield and are adjusting quickly to the speed and intensity of college-level softball. Both demonstrate a strong work ethic that should allow them to contribute early on offense and defense.

Season at a Glance

The Raiders began their season Jan. 29 with the JUCO Kickoff Classic in Clearwater. The team went 1-2 in the tournament, defeating Gulf Coast Community College 5-4 before falling to Brevard Community College 3-2 and Miami Dade College 9-8. Extra innings were needed to determine a winner in the GCCC and BCC matchups.

The Raiders took on South Florida Community College in a doubleheader Feb. 1, winning the first game 12-1 and falling 6-3 in game two. The team returns to Raider Softball Field on the Sanford/Lake Mary Campus Feb. 8 for its home opener against State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota.

Miller says she expects some early-season ups and downs for her young team. She also expects a strong finish that will help the Raiders clinch a berth in the FCCAA state tournament in late April.

All Raider home events are free to Seminole State students, faculty and staff with a valid Seminole State ID. Admission is also available to the general public for a small fee. For more information, and to view the Raiders' complete season schedule, please visit the Seminole State fastpitch softball home page.

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