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Sparks relying on senior core
by Aaron Retherford
Mar 15, 2010 | 855 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune/John Byrne - Sparks senior Melissa Tallent fires a pitch to the plate during practice Monday. She is one of six seniors on the team.
Tribune/John Byrne - Sparks senior Melissa Tallent fires a pitch to the plate during practice Monday. She is one of six seniors on the team.
In Frank Avilla's first years as the softball coach at Sparks High, the Railroaders were postseason qualifiers almost every year.

While enjoying another successful season two years ago, several players were deemed ineligible and Sparks' wins to that point were forfeited.

Last spring continued that downward spiral when the Maroon and Gold only managed a couple victories.

But this year is shaping up to be different with six seniors returning for Sparks.

"We were 2-15 I think. We were rebuilding," Avilla said. "The year before we were in first place and we got knocked out because of a hiccup. All these girls went through that, and all these girls are looking forward to good things. They've got good leadership skills out here and good work ethics. With that, anything can happen."

Four-year starter Allison Tallman is back manning the middle of the outfield. She has hit over .400 during her first three seasons and is the team's leading run-producer. She also will pitch some this year.

Tallman was selected by the coaching staff as one of the captains.

The other two captains picked by the players are Katie Hippert and Kristina Avilla. Hippert is an aggressive player that can play all over as well. The third-year varsity player plays left field, pitcher and some middle infield. Kristina Avilla is the starting shortstop and was named an all-3A North second team utility player a year ago.

Coach Avilla said all three could move on to play in college.

Also returning to the squad are catcher/outfielder Krysti Collier and first baseman Amanda Mahon.

"It's been fun watching all these kids. They've been through the program four years now," Avilla said. "I watched them throughout when they were little playing rec league ball, and now watching them graduate is a special thing. It's exciting. We're looking forward to a good year this year."

Sparks might have a secret weapon this year as well. Melissa Tallent has played tournament ball for Avilla over the years, but this is the first time she has been eligible to play for the school team.

If all goes well, Tallent will be the team's ace in the circle for her senior campaign.

"It's no secret. If she's on her game, Sparks does good things," Avilla said.

Avilla felt the girls had a good offseason.

"Every sport here improved this year, so the girls benefited from that, and I look forward to benefiting from it as a coach on the softball field," Avilla said. "Their offseason work ethics have been very good. We've been running 6 o'clock practices in the morning to work on our hitting, something we hope to do a little bit better this year. The girls have been dedicated to that.

"It's been very early mornings, and I've been surprised to see everybody on time and beating the coach to practice and getting in the gym ready to work. It's breath of fresh air. It makes you want to get out here and coach."

Although the team's overall knowledge of the game might be a weakness, Avilla said the team has good speed and has a group of pretty good hitters. Plus, the value of the senior core cannot be overlooked.

"I don't remember the last time I had six seniors who were versed in the game and who could bring the other teammates along," Avilla said. "Give us a couple weeks. The kids are coming up the ranks and starting to learn the game. Now, it will be on us coaches to make sure they learn it at a rapid pace."

Sparks will get its first test of the season when it opens its schedule at home Wednesday. First pitch with Dayton is scheduled for 4 p.m.
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