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The Quakers lost 1-4 to the St. Joseph Hawks at Warren Field on Wednesday, March 18, 2009. Penn's only run was scored early in the game, while the Hawks continued to score through the end of the game. Cailyn Hennessy Credit: Michael Chien

The Penn softball team will open its season with an additional element of uncertainty on the mound.

With two of last year’s best pitchers no longer on the roster and junior Taylor Tieman out due to injury, coach Leslie King must make the best of a limited bullpen.

But King is confident that each member of a younger, four-person pitching staff has capitalized on increased innings.

The hurlers will have a golden opportunity to prove their coach right when they take on Saint Joseph’s in a doubleheader at Warren field this afternoon.

“The pitchers who might not have gotten as much playing time last year have gotten an opportunity to step up and play a bigger roll this year,” King said. “Each girl has been working hard to improve.”

The two pitchers who saw the most work in the team’s 2-5 spring break stint in Florida were sophomores Chelsea Ott and Cailyn Hennessy. Each earned a victory last week while focusing on different aspects of her game.

Ott, who is coming back from an off-season knee surgery, has been working her way back to full strength in addition to tweaking some fundamentals in her release.

“We are trying to keep her healthy as well as give her plenty of innings,” King said. “She has a lot of talent and has had to adapt how she throws. She is at a place where she tries to spin the ball and move the ball rather than beat people with speed. She has come to terms with that.”

In Ott’s first outing with this new control approach, she pitched a 1-0 shutout against South Dakota. She continued to see much success, as she pitched 12 scoreless innings to start the season before giving up a two run shot in the 5th inning of the Quakers’ loss to Butler. Her 2.02 ERA leads the team.

While rest is an issue for Ott as she recovers, King has relied extensively on Hennessy in the early parts of the schedule.

Hennessy has started two games and pitched relief in three others, tallying 15.2 innings in five days. She currently holds a 1-2 record with a 2.68 ERA.

“She is a very fit kid,” King said. “She is in great shape and has great mechanics.”

Despite the heavy workload in the opening week, King insisted that Hennessey is not being worn out, noting that “the more she throws, the better she gets.”

The other two pitchers who have seen work are freshman Lindsay Mann and junior Tory Satagaj. Though each got off to a rocky start, King believes that experience and practice will iron out those early problems.

“With Linsday, it’s always a pretty steep learning curve for freshman pitchers,” King said. “It is a whole different world. The good news is that Linday has been able to make adjustments. We are working hard with her on keeping the ball down and in the ball park.”

Mann gave up two home runs and two doubles in her 12.2 innings pitched.

“In college, if you leave it over the plate, you get punished with extra bases. She learned that the hard way, but we are trying to help her consistently hit her targets and beat batters with movement and location.”

Meanwhile Satagaj has been working to fix what went wrong during her 2.2 innings of work in Florida when she walked five batters and gave up five runs ­— four earned — in her only appearance so far.

“We just needed to get her back and some practice with a catcher to work on some things and get her to a place where she can consistently throw the ball,” King said.

While the Quakers may not have as many options in their bullpen as they might like, they expect to get a boost in the coming weeks with the return of Tieman.

“She is a big, tall, strong power pitcher,” King said. “She has a lot of experience. Our staff is very young right now, and she adds that stability and experience that we really need.”

Thus, while the pitching staff has their work cut out for them now, it may be hitting its stride in just a few weeks.

And that timing could be just right as the Ivy season doesn’t kick off until April.

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