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Softball: Defending champs know they won't take anyone by surprise

Bethlehem says it has the offense and pitching to contend again

Bethlehem’s Meagan Sullivan throws during a preseason practice last Wednesday. Sullivan is one of six returning starters from last year’s Class AA championship team.

Bethlehem’s Meagan Sullivan throws during a preseason practice last Wednesday. Sullivan is one of six returning starters from last year’s Class AA championship team. Photo by Rob Jonas.

— For the first time in three decades, the Bethlehem softball team enters the season as the defending Section II champion.

With that title comes the burden of being everyone’s target, but the Lady Eagles don’t mind.

“I think we gained more respect for winning it last year,” said returning outfielder McKenzie Pezze. “Now, people come and want to say that they beat the Section II titleholders.”

“The thing we have this year is no one is going to be surprised about us,” added Bethlehem coach Karen Gentile.

Sophomore pitcher Meagan Sullivan returns to see if she can continue to confound Section II hitters with her array of off-speed pitches like she did last year. It was that variety of pitches that helped Sullivan shut down Shenendehowa’s high-powered offense in a 2-1 victory over the Plainswomen in the Class AA Sectional final.

“I definitely think it’s going to put a bigger target on our backs because we’re not that team with a freshman pitcher that no one knew about anymore,” said Sullivan.

“She doesn’t strike many batters out, but she induces a lot of ground balls,” said Gentile. “So, we’ll have to tighten up defensively.”

How quickly Gentile can get the defense to come together will determine how well Bethlehem does in the Suburban Council this season. The Lady Eagles have to replace three starting infielders following the graduation of Kat Rice, Mary Beth Dombrowski and Meghan Burns.

“A lot of the players who were here last year have been training hard (in the off-season),” said Pezze. “I have faith in our infield this year. I think they can support Meagan (Sullivan) on defense.”

“I’ve played with most of them when we were on JV, and we did well that year,” said Sullivan of her new teammates.

One area where Bethlehem won’t have many problems is scoring runs. Pezze, Mikayla Shade, Cassie Smith and Sammy Smaldone are back, and Rebekah Kitchen is a new starter that Gentile said should contribute to the offense.

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