PRINCETON: Hun leadoff aiming for big finish

Blake captains experienced softball squad

By Justin Feil, Assistant Sports Editor
   Julia Blake is a big fan of Derek Jeter, and Blake would like nothing more than to leave with a bang like the now retired New York Yankees shortstop did with a home run in his final at bat.
   The Hun School shortstop is looking for her own storybook ending — complete with the championship that evaded Jeter in his final season — as she finishes her high school career.
   ”There’s no better way to finish high school than with a great softball season and a great team,” Blake said. “It’s my senior year. I’m just trying to take it all in.”
   The Raiders were scheduled to open the season Thursday at Blair, which received two inches of snow Wednesday, and Blake was to be in a familiar spot. In addition to starting at shortstop for the fourth year, Blake is in her third year as their leadoff hitter.
   ”She’s been starting since freshman year,” said Hun head coach Kathy Quirk, whose team was 9-8 last year and reached the Prep A semifinals. “I know she’s dependable. She never misses a practice. She never misses a game. Her leadership has been outstanding. She’s been great at helping the new kids out. I’ve been very pleased with her and Vicki Leach as leaders.”
   Blake is looking to set the tone for the Raiders in the field and at the plate. She comes ready to compete every game from the first at bat of the game.
   ”Leading off has always been my favorite,” Blake said. “It’s the best type of approach to have. That first pitch, especially in the first inning, I think is the best pitch of the game. The pitcher wants to start out strong and wants to show what she has. I remember hitting the first pitch out against Lawrenceville, and Derek Jeter hitting it out on his last at bat. Having that confidence that no matter where a pitcher is going to pitch it, you have to have confidence that you’re going to hit it. I’ve always thought that, no matter where she pitches it I’m going to hit it as best I can.”
   Behind her, the Raiders return a bevy of talent. Leach, the second baseman, was the No. 2 hitter last year, catcher Julie Fassl is back after hitting third, and first baseman Alexis Goeke is back in the clean-up role. Last year’s designated hitter Sierra Hessinger returns, as do Alyssa Hampton and Shannon Dargan who were part of Hun’s lineup last year.
   ”I’m optimistic,” said Quirk, who is in her 40th year at the helm. “On a given day, we can play with the best. They just have to believe in themselves.”
   Leading the rest of the roster are a pair of newcomers who can pitch — freshman Julia Revock and junior Kacey Abitz. Quirk envisions rotating the two in the circle. Abitz can play third base when she’s not pitching, and both bring strong bats to the lineup as well as their pitching.
   ”We may even split games, depending how things go,” Quirk said. “Revock pitched five innings and struck out eight (against Delaware Valley in a scrimmage Monday). That’s pretty good for a freshman.”
   The Raiders roster is rounded out by Bianca Cifelli, CJ Mozieka, Kate O’Connell, Keelan Ryan and Meg Ward. It gives Hun all the components for a big season.
   ”We have a really, really strong core of girls this year, especially in the infield,” Blake said. “We have two new players, Julia Revock and Kacey Abitz, and they’ve been playing their whole lives and year-round. In addition to me, Vicki Leach, Alexis Goeke, Fassl behind the plate, we have a real knowledgeable infield and we’ve gelled really quickly. We felt really comfortable. We’re comfortable and confident in each other. I hope we see that in all the games this season.”
   The Raiders will again be competing in a challenging Mid-Atlantic Prep League which includes some of the same teams that play for the Prep A state championship.
   ”We all have people back,” Quirk said. “I think Blair is the strongest. I think it’s up for grabs. Lawrenceville beat Peddie (Tuesday). You just have to take one game at a time. I’m looking for some big things from our girls. They’re a hard working group of girls.”
   The Raiders have seen the fruits of their hard work early. They took a preseason trip to Florida where they went 6-1.
   ”It was hard because we were indoors right up until we went to Florida,” Blake said. “Usually we get a couple days outside before it. It was a great experience. We have a lot of new girls, but we saw a lot of potential.”
   Included in the trip was a big comeback for a wild 18-15 win in their first game. It’s something that the Raiders can look back on for confidence.
   ”In every game we have to think about that,” Blake said “Normally it’s hard if you’re down four or five runs. If we can come back and score 18 runs, there’s no stopping us. We have a good core group of hitters in our first part of our lineup. With our solid infield and outfield that will hustle for every ball, that talent mixed with a positive approach, I think that’ll make a difference.”
   Blake hopes to be a difference maker for the Raiders. She has been a vital part of the Hun team for years, and now she’s reached her final season with the Raiders.
   ”It does feel different,” Blake said. “I feel like as a leader and a captain. Hun softball has been such an incredible experience for me. I feel responsible for fostering that same experience for the younger girls. I want them to have the same experience. There’s such a high level of competition and we play in a tough league and Mrs. Quirk pushes us to do our best, and it’s fun and a great experience.”
   Her past experience has helped prepare her for her role as a team leader. The Ringoes resident has developed each year in the program.
   ”Freshman year, I was just thrown in the game,” Blake recalled. “I had to learn and adjust. I watched three sets of captains and I saw what things work and what things discourage girls. With my knowledge of the game and knowledge of the team, it’s helped prepare me to be a leader this year.”
   Next year, Blake will take her skills to Haverford College. She may not be shortstop at the next level, but she’s hoping to contribute quickly.
   ”I love playing anywhere,” Blake said. “I’m really excited. I did early decision. I knew back in December. I’m really happy. I couldn’t have asked for a better option.”
   Julia Blake will spend this spring trying to make the most of her final season of high school softball. After three years as a top contributor, she’s more than ready to be a captain and lead the Raiders to a championship season.
   ”I definitely think I’m more comfortable this year,” Blake said. “I’ve always told myself the most important thing is to be a leader and a good teammate. Now that I’ve solidified into that position, it’s made me more confident.”
   All that is left is the storybook ending.