Local softball diamonds are rife with the crack of bats and team cheers as area girls gear up for the coming softball season.
At Urbana, the Hillclimbers have a core of returners that have Coach Aaron Pittsenbarger optimistic. Emma Burnside, Katy Curnutte, Sara Lingrell, Mailie Moyer, Cassidy James and Hannah Alvoid will all be back, with Lucy Buckalew filling a bigger role and Macy Pierce bolstering the ranks.
“It’s just nice that it’s an experienced group,” Pittsenbarger said. “They are mentors to my younger team and I appreciate their leadership.”
Urbana will have to improve dramatically to make a run at a league title, but that’s the goal.
“That’s why we’re playing. That’s what we’re going to set out and expect to do,” Pittsenbarger said. “This year is different. We expect to win. We expect to compete every game. When we don’t win, we’ll drive to get better. We’re a lot more confident. You have to feel good to play good.”
The Hillclimbers open the season with a doubleheader at Riverside on Saturday.
At Graham, the Falcons are even more loaded with returners than Urbana. Mallory Roberts, Melany Robbins, Morgan Rush, Marley Brandyberry, McKenzie Smith, Allie Neeld, Adrianna Hicks and Madison Bryant all come back for Coach Ralph Foster.
In addition, Delilah Myers, Ashton Curnutte and Alison Theodor are all being thrown into the mix.
“All the girls are feeling confident and working hard,” Foster said. “They’re looking to put team first. This group has picked up where last year’s left off.”
Last year’s team went 15-7 – the best record for a Graham team in nearly a decade. These Falcons want to win the Mad River Division and make a run at the state tournament.
“There’s a lot of teamwork that’s going into it,” Foster said. “You’re just hoping to stay healthy. There’s some good leadership in this group. It’s a privilege to coach these young ladies.”
The Falcons are scheduled to open the season March 28 at Catholic Central, but the game may be rescheduled, which would leave Graham on the road at Bellefontaine on March 31.
At West Liberty-Salem, the Tigers also have a bunch of returners, but are replacing graduated talent in the circle with a pair of freshmen.
Kenedie Cox, Grace Woodruff, Kylie Gilroy, Kiana Reames, Dierdre McGill, Kelby Strapp, Olivia Ames and Emily Schultz are all coming back, with Kelsey Day and Kiana Seeberg assuming pitching duties.
“I definitely expect them to make little mistakes as they adjust,” WL-S Coach Kenleigh Farris said. “But they are used to the pressure. I’m fortunate enough to have eight letterwinners and seven starters back.”
The Tigers want to win the OHC and make a tournament run, as well as be more competitive in the non-conference schedule.
“We have a tough non-conference schedule,” Farris said. “We want to improve every day.”
At Triad, the Cardinals are coming off a state tournament runner-up finish, but are replacing some key pieces.
Nonetheless, plenty of talent will return for the Red Birds. Jenna Ober, Madison Dolby, Mckenzee Legge, Ali Dixon, Abby Ehrenborg, Maddi Collier and Lexi Moore will all have to provide production as letterwinners. Bri Eaton, Kristin Bailey, Kaitlyn Pence and Shelby Sheets will fill voids as newcomers.
“We’ve got a good core group coming back. We’ll see if we can iron out some things. Everything may change by May,” Triad Coach Shari Dixon said. “We just haven’t been outside enough. We’ll get a few games under our belts and see what happens.”
And as for that state finish? Dixon thinks it could propel this year’s team.
“You always get a little taste of winning and that carries over every year. I don’t think their goals have changed,” she said.
Mechanicsburg will be reloading with a bunch of new talent, but does have a few returners.
Elysha Stapleton, Mayci Powell, Mary Mayo, Cici Link, Jessica Maddux and Miranda Lauchard are all coming back to the team. Meagan Hux, Elly Schipfer, Makenna Hiltibran, Ally Raber and Hailie Stepek will all be out for varsity for the first time.
“We’re a little green,” M’burg Coach Abbey DeLong conceded. “We’re replacing the whole infield. We’ve got some work to do, but so far so good. The girls are working hard. They’re taking everything I say to heart. We just have to battle.”
The Indians want to finish in the top half of the OHC, which would be a plus for a team this young in such a tough conference.
“We’re working on having quality at-bats, making quality contact and playing error-free defense,” DeLong said. “Our goal this year is to compete in the OHC. We’d like to stay toward the top.”
M’burg will get a conference test right out of the gate, traveling to West Liberty-Salem on March 29.
Reach Justin Miller at 652-1331 (ext. 1776) or on Twitter @UDC_Miller.