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Shelby Township

May 14, 2014

Eagles’ softball continues to improve

Eisenhower now a competitor in the MAC Red

By Thomas Franz
C & G Sports Writer

» click to enlarge «
Eisenhower’s Natalie O’Reilly delivers a pitch during Eisenhower’s doubleheader against Romeo on May 7.

SHELBY TOWNSHIP — In four seasons, Vince Alessandrini has changed the attitude of the Utica Eisenhower softball program. And with the change has come more and more success.

The Eagles are taking another step forward this spring thanks to a team batting average of .340 and maintaining a positive family atmosphere that Alessandrini has instilled in the program.

“Since I’ve been here, we’ve preached family. It’s one team. We don’t have a freshman team, a JV team and a varsity team. We’re one team,” Alessandrini said. “I pulled up a freshman who’s coming today, and we don’t treat her like a freshman, we treat her like one of the family, and that’s what we preach. They’re buying into it, and that’s our success.”

Senior captain Ellie Kauten, a catcher, has started every game while Alessandrini has been head coach, and he credited Kauten for being a leader in changing the program.

“Everyone follows her (Kauten). She could probably coach the team right now. She’s been with me; she knows what I want and what we’re doing. So we’re definitely going to have to fill her hole next year. She’s going to be missed,” Alessandrini said.

Kauten will be playing for UM-Dearborn next year, and she echoed Alessandrini’s statements about the program becoming a family at Eisenhower.

“My freshman year, we had a bunch of seniors, so we kind of started over sophomore year. We definitely evolved since then and gotten a lot better, and really, become like a family and one team,” Kauten said. “We’re all friends. We’re not cliquey. We don’t see each other by age. We’re just all together.”

Eisenhower moved up to the MAC Red after Kauten’s sophomore year. Following two successful seasons in the MAC White, Kauten said that the move has led to greater commitment and maturity in the program.

“There was definitely a big difference in competition between the White and the Red. I don’t want to say we struggled our first year in the Red, but it was definitely a big change from the White. We had to work harder and have the mental set prepared ahead of time,” Kauten said.

That preparation has been evident this spring. On the diamond, Eisenhower has gotten major contributions offensively from junior shortstop Kayla Laquiere and junior first baseman Sydney Culps.

Both players have verbally committed to play softball in college, and their hitting stats prove why they will be playing at the next level. As of May 6, Laquiere was hitting .560 with six home runs and 20 RBI. For the last week of April, Culps hit .462 with five home runs and 14 RBI.

Alessandrini pointed to the team’s commitment to the thorough offseason program as a contributing factor in the Eagles’ hitting.

“That’s one thing we’ve done since I’ve been here. We start preparing for our season in November by doing speed and agility work, and then some hitting on Sundays, which they’ve never done before. So our girls are actually starting to get some work in before the season starts,” Alessandrini said.

Pitching this year are sophomore Natalie O’Reilly, and juniors Joanna Zweng and Allie Jodisz.

“Allie (Jodisz) has been pitching really well for us this year as our No.1. She’s just been outstanding. We don’t have a dominant pitcher, but she keeps us in the game and does her job,” Alessandrini said.

Alessandrini also mentioned leadoff hitter Haley Czarnik, Victoria Hall, Jenna Rastigue and Olivia Chriss, another senior captain who plays outfield, as keys to the Eagles’ success.

“Olivia Chriss came up as a sophomore, and she’s like the mom of the team. She doesn’t play a lot, but she’ll cheer, and she’s a great captain as far as picking people up and cheering people on. She can come off the bench and get a big hit for us when we need it. She’s a great captain,” Alessandrini said.

Eisenhower quickly bounced back from a tough doubleheader against Romeo on May 7 by sweeping L’Anse Creuse North in a doubleheader on May 8 to improve its record to 15-8.

To close out MAC Red play, Eisenhower will host Utica Ford for two games on May 13, and the Eagles will host Macomb Dakota in a doubleheader on May 15.

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Thomas Franz at tfranz@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1040.