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Friday, April 29, 2011 - page 2

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Championship Preview
Softball hopes offense can fuel
deep conference tournament run

To say the celebration was subdued after the Muhlenberg softball team closed the regular season with a walk-off win over Eastern on Wednesday would be an understatement.

When sophomore Devon Barber crossed home plate to score the winning run, the Mules were rather quiet as they emptied out of the dugout. The team simply got in line to shake hands with Eastern, packed its bags and went on its way.

But there was a reason for the lack of exuberance according to senior Jess Kasza. While ending the regular season with back-to-back sweeps was nice, Muhlenberg's focus is on a much bigger goal: a conference championship.
Jess Kasza
Kasza ranks fourth in doubles, ninth in extra-base hits and 14th in hits on Muhlenberg's all-time lists.

And the Mules (22-15, 11-5) will get the opportunity to claim their second title in three seasons when they face Washington (21-19, 11-5) in the first round of the Centennial Conference championship at 10 a.m. Saturday at Dickinson. The winner will face the winner of the other first round game between the host Red Devils (18-15, 12-4) and Ursinus (17-16, 10-6) on Saturday afternoon. The double elimination tournament will conclude with the championship game on Sunday.

"Our expectations are definitely high; they've been high all season," Kasza said. "We've been there before and know what we're going to face, so I think we are all definitely prepared. We are going into this tournament looking to win and don't want to settle for anything else."

Muhlenberg will be seeking its fifth conference title and fourth since the CC began the postseason tournament in 2001. But with a field that includes the five-time conference champion Bears, a Shorewomen team that won seven of its final eight CC games and Dickinson, which features the conference's best pitching staff, the Mules will have their work cut out for them.

Muhlenberg had its most success against Ursinus. Needing one win in the final doubleheader of the conference season on Tuesday, the Mules jumped on top of the Bears for a 7-2 victory in the opener. Then in the nightcap, senior Ashley Brewer hit a three-run homer, her second of the game, in the top of the sixth to help the Mules come back from a two-run deficit for an 8-7 win.

Muhlenberg and Washington, meanwhile, split their season series in Chestertown with the Shorewomen winning the opener, 4-3 nine innings, and the Mules claiming the nightcap, 7-4.

Alyssa Epstein
Senior Alyssa Epstein has set career highs for hits, runs, doubles, RBI and stolen bases this season.
But while Kasza said she and her teammates are not taking either Ursinus or Washington lightly, the Mules are most eager for a chance at redemption agaisnt Dickinson.

Not only are the Red Devils the defending conference champions, but they were also the only team that swept Muhlenberg during CC play.

Add to that the fact that the Mules led Dickinson in the top of the seventh before losing in extra innings of the opener and Red Devil pitcher Allison Jordan pitched a perfect game in the nightcap, and there is more than enough motivation for Muhlenberg.

"We definitely want another shot at her," Kasza said. "We're all ready to face her again. We saw enough of her that I think we're going to do a lot better the next time around. She really got into a groove last time, and our mission is to not let that happen again."

For most of the conference season, Muhlenberg relied on its record-setting offense for much of its success. The Mules scored at least five runs in nine of their 11 CC wins.

Muhlenberg has already shattered the school records for runs, doubles, home runs and extra-base hits in a season, and finished second in the CC in runs and home runs in conference games.

Brewer has smashed the school career and single-season home run marks, while freshman Erica Wenzel broke the single-season runs scored record. Wenzel, Brewer and Barber became the first trio in Mule history to each score at least 30 runs in the same season; Muhlenberg had never had two people score 30 runs in the same season until this year. And if Brewer scores one more run, all three will have equaled or broken the previous single-season record.

But Kasza said the Mule offense cooled slightly during the next-to-last week of the regular season. However, after averaging eight runs per contest during their current four-game winning streak and using three home runs to sweep Ursinus, the lineup is back to its normal run-producing ways.

"Our bats were quiet for a little bit, but the past four games have really helped us get them back," Kasza said. "And the best thing about it is that it hasn't been the same people every time.

"Everyone in the lineup has been contributing, which is really positive for us going into this weekend and hopefully will carry us to another conference championship."
Click here for the championship website.

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