By TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
TIOGA CENTER — IAC Small School powerhouse Tioga graduated four seniors with a combined 15 years of varsity experience from the middle of the diamond, and head coach Heather Klossner will be away from the program in 2017, but interim coach Kim Pesesky believes the Lady Tigers have what it takes to make a run at another Small School title.
The Lady Tigers lost pitcher Sam Wood, now playing at St. Bonaventure, catcher Brittany Vergason, now playing at Keuka College, shortstop Katelyn Stubbs, and second baseman Taylor Ayres to graduation.
“We have a big void we have to fill,” said Pesesky. “We lost a lot to graduation, but the kids have worked hard to fill the gaps.”
Pesesky is filling in for Klossner (out on maternity leave), who has led Tioga to back-to-back appearances in the Section IV, Class C finals.
Pesesky has 16 years of coaching Tioga’s modified team under her belt and believes that will be a benefit, especially with this team.
“I’ve coached eight out of the 12 girls on modified,” she said. “It definitely helps. I know where they can play. I know their strengths, and what we need to work on.”
Junior Mariah Culver, who tied a school record with 18 strikeouts in a game last season, returns to handle the majority of the pitching chores. Junior Madalyn Dydynski will also see time in the pitcher’s circle.
Juniors Marissa Howe and Sarah Strong will both see time at catcher.
Seniors Sarah Hollenbeck, a first-team IAC all-star in 2016, and Megan Godfrey return to play first and third base, respectively.
Junior Kurstan Martin steps into a full-time role this year at shortstop, while Dydynski will play second base. When Dydynski in the circle,Strong and Howe are possibilities at second base.
Seniors Morgan Babcock and Justice Pahlmann are expected to see a lot of time in the outfield, with Culver, Strong, Howe, senior Stephanie Armstrong, and juniors Alex Divers and Abby Lyons also expected to see time there.
“We feel pretty good about what we have coming back,” said Pesesky. “A lot of them play travel ball, so they’re playing year-round.
“Our two pitchers still take pitching lessons,” she added. “I think we’re in pretty good shape.”
Pesesky said the Lady Tigers may not play as much ‘small ball” as they have in the past.
“We’re not going to be as fast as we’ve been in the past, but I think we’ve got a little more power.”
Defense, as always, will be a key.
“We have to back each other up, and hit our cut-offs,” said Pesesky. “We have to do the fundamentals. You can’t have errors, errors will kill any team.”
Pesesky believes ‘team chemistry’ could be a major strength for the Lady Tigers.
“We have to make sure we gel together as a team,” she said. “There are a lot of different personalities here, we just need to put it together.
“One of our biggest strengths is that we have a core that likes to win, it’s hungry to win,” added Pesesky. “Hopefully, they’re going to go to any stops they have to, to make that happen.”
Pesesky’s expectations are no different than any year in Tioga.
“We’re hoping to get some good pitching and timely hitting to make a run at the Small School title, then we’ll move on from there.”
Tioga opens the 2017 campaign this afternoon when it hosts Newark Valley.
IN PHOTO: Tioga’s Mariah Culver.