---- — Lourdes softball program hasn't exactly been a powerhouse in recent memory.
After all, last year was just the first time the Red Raiders had a winning record in the past 20 years.
So perhaps it comes as a surprise to some that Lourdes is vastly improved. Scott Long, however, knew the potential the team had when he took over as coach three years ago.
You could say a simple switch in his defense helped spark the turnaround, too.
For the first two years of Emily Long's high school career, she was a shortstop and second baseman. And while the Lourdes infield was solid, the outfield caused some problems.
So in Scott Long's second year, coming off a 9-11 season, he told Emily she would be moving to the outfield, and that's where she's been ever since.
A solid outfield anchored by the speedy Long and an overall talented team that has the Red Raiders sitting at 14-6, a two-win improvement from last year.
"Before (her junior year), she didn't play the outfield at all, so it was a new move for her. Generally in the lower levels, the outfield isn't as important, but higher levels, the outfield becomes very important," Coach Long said. "She plays very well and she takes a lot of base hits away because of her speed."
Long also has been solid for the Red Raiders offensively, leading the team with 34 runs scored, three home runs, a second-best 27 hits and a team-leading .443 batting average.
That team-high average is an improvement as well for Long, who was hitting below .300 her first two seasons.
"She put a lot of time in. She hits all year round and I think that was the difference," Coach Long said. "Her attitude is exceptional when it comes to playing softball. She's ready to play anytime, anywhere and she just puts the time (in)."
The Red Raiders have four different hitters with an average over .300, including Caity Funk (.359), Peyton Klembara (.397), Long and pitching ace CharLee Rosini (.437).
While Rosini's a threat every time she comes up to bat -- leading Lourdes with 31 hits, nine doubles, four triples and two homers -- it's her arm that has helped Lourdes reach the postseason.
Rosini has a 12-2 mark as a starter this year for Lourdes, striking out 78 batters through 100 innings pitched with an ERA of just 2.17.
In addition, the senior ace has thrown three one-hitters and recorded six shutouts this season.
"Char has been a four-year starter and she's been our horse on the mound. She's carried the ball for us all four years. She's our go-to (player) not only on mound, but at bat as well," Coach Long said. "That kid is a slugger and she's won many games for us over last four years. In the bottom of the seventh when we needed a hit, she comes through more times than not."
Factor in that Klembara is a nice luxury to have as a second pitcher, and it isn't too surprising Lourdes is 14-6 and is playoff-bound for the second time since 1993.
"Peyton is a different style pitcher. She doesn't get used on the mound as often because she's valuable to us at shortstop, but next year Peyton's going to be a senior," coach Long said. "So we tried to get her some games to get her to test the waters and get used to getting the ball next year and carrying us."
Klembara (2-2) threw a 3-inning no-hitter in a 17-0 shutout over Lincoln Leadership Academy earlier this season.
The Red Raiders' six losses this year came to three teams in the Schuylkill League: Minersville, Tri-Valley and Williams Valley. And despite the fact Lourdes hasn't played many schools in the Heartland this season, don't be surprised if Lourdes tries to make some ripples in the Class AA field in districts.
"I sure do (think we can hang with the teams in Class AA). We have the pitching and our team can hit," coach Long said. "I just want us to be competitive and I certainly think we can be competitive."
n Jon Gerardi covers high school softball for The Daily Item. Email comments to email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JonGerardi.