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AYER — The Ayer girls softball team has been frequent flyers when it comes to post-season play, and last year was no exception. But 10th year coach Dan Civitarese enters this season ready to bounce back from a disappointing District loss to Worcester Tech. The roster contains 14 players, seven returnees and seven newcomers, and Civitarese enters the seasons with many questions to answer. How they are answered will determine the outcome in 2010.

“Our goal is to make the Districts and try to end the season with a high enough seed to get a home game,” said Civitarese. “We have a tougher schedule this season, and we are going to have to work hard to make it.”

The Lady Panthers will be led by two senior captains – pitcher/shortstop Gina Gibson and Jess Peck, who will start, but her destination is yet to be determined.

“Gina is a four year starter and gives us experience at a crucial position,” said Civitarese. “She is a hard thrower with an improved change-up. Offensively, she will bat third and has great power. She hit 15 home runs last season. Gina is a game changer both offensively and defensively and provides plenty of leadership. Jess is a quiet leader who is focused and experienced in her third varsity season. She has good speed, is intense and is a team player. We are looking at her at second base, but that could change according to where some of the other players fit in best. Jess will bat leadoff.”

Another sure-fire starter will be jun ior catcher Sabrina Schwartz.

“Sabrina can also play the outfield and is a third year starter behind the plate,” said Civitarese. “She has a good arm and is working hard defensively. We want her to be more aggressive offensively, including swinging at more strikes.”

The probable starting first baseman will be freshman Clara Watson.

“Clara is a good target at first and has been a pleasant surprise,” said Civitarese. “She is a line drive hitter and she has been working hard to improve defensively.”

The other varsity returnees include sophomore shortstop/pitcher Ally Fillebrown, senior second/baseman outfielder Shelby Sponaugle, sophomore catcher/third baseman/outfielder Hayley Wilcox, and junior outfielder Sydney Wood.

“Ally started at shortstop last season and has the inside tract this season,” said Civitarese. “She brings experience and she is an improved and stronger hitter this season and also has a stronger arm. She also saw time on the mound last year. Shelby is in her fourth year on varsity and has been hitting the ball well. She is healthier this year, which should mean more playing time. Hayley is a versatile player who came up with a lot of big hits for us last season. She is our back-up catcher and is competing for an outfield berth. Her solid bat will gain her at bats and she could also do some designated hitting. Sydney is in the mix for a starting ourfield berth. She is a left-handed hitter who bunts well, and we are looking for more contact offensively from her.”

The six other newcomers include freshmen Shanna DeBalsi, Anna Peck, Celiena DeBalsi and Erika Esielionis, sophomore Courtney Gintner, and senior Ally Kennedy.

“Shanna is a third baseman/outfielder with good size, range and a strong arm,” said Civitarese. “She has been impressive and is a probable starter. If she starts she would hit in the middle of the lineup as she has shown some power. Anna has the versatility to play a number of positions, and is competing at second base, shortstop and in the outfield. She is athletic and is the fastest player on the team and just needs to adjust to playing at a new level. Celiena is a first baseman/outfielder who combines size and speed. She has great bat speed and has shown some pop offensively, and she is working on her defense. Erika is a catcher/infielder/outfielder who is versatile and hard working. She continues to improve and is another player who is adjusting to a new level. Courtney is a third baseman/pitcher who is up from the junior varsity team. She has pop in her bat and has good hands and a strong arm and she is in the mix to start. Ally is an outfielder who was with the junior varsity team last year, and she is working to earn playing time.”

What are the team strengths this season?

“It is important that we have experience on the mound with Gina,” said Civitarese. “She can be dominant. I think we have more depth, which creates more options and has brought about a lot of competition in the preseason. We have a very strong freshman class and I think we have the potential to hit.

“Our concerns are getting everyone in the right positions, our overall defense, and the newcomers adjusting to the varsity level,” said Civitarese.