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Softball: Tigers on the prowl
Softball: Tigers on the prowl

Winning has become the norm at the Ballpark at Erie, home of the four-time defending state softball champions.

In fact, it is expected. And if the Tigers don’t hoist the state championship trophy, the season is considered a failure.

Despite losing nine of the 12 players from the 2010 state champion squad, the Tigers don’t expect things to change in 2011.

“For this program, expectations are always high,” coach Bob Bledsoe said. “Our goal is to be in the state championship. Since I started 17 years ago that has always been the goal and it will remain the same.”

While the Tigers might be young and inexperienced, they have something most teams don’t: a CHSAA Hall of Fame coach.

And Bledsoe knows it’s his job to set the bar high for his players.

“We expect them to bring their ‘A’ game every day,” he said. “They know what we expect from them, and if they don’t they will hear from us.”

Since Bledsoe began at Erie, he has never lost a group so large in numbers and so athletically talented. But at the same time, the challenge of pumping out a new group of state champions is something his coaching staff thrives on.

“Our staff is about teaching the game and working on tiny details,” he said. “Our experience is that if you do the little things right, that will equate to wins. Will it be difficult? Sure. It will be a challenge. But we love the challenge. It’s really exciting.”

The Tigers will lean heavily on the senior leadership of pitcher Lauren Murphy-Payne and catcher Makayla Kovac, as well as the only other returning varsity player in junior Amanda Ochoa.

“The senior leadership is going to play a big factor. They are going to have a talented team to work with but they won’t necessarily know what it takes to win,” said Bledsoe. “Those captains will play a large part of us getting back to state. They have seen the best from not just this state but the entire nation, so their leadership will be huge and I know they will do a great job of leading us.”

Winning four state titles in row, the Erie program has done a tremendous job developing their program. But the task is tall considering the Tigers will play with virtually a brand-new team. But the idea of winning a fifth straight title with so many new faces is something that Bledsoe loves.

“How many teams can graduate 75 percent of their team and come back just as strong?” he said. “It will be fun to see where the year takes us.”

But don’t expect the expectations to ever change for the Tigers.

As Bledsoe pointed out to a banner in right-center field that reads, “State Softball Champions — 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010,” he said, “I fully expect to be busy on Saturday, Oct. 22, the day of the 2011 state championship game. We will be busy taking care of business.”

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