The Tri-Eastern Conference softball race was as balanced during the 2013 season as it has ever been, but once again, Union County’s traditionally strong program earned the title.
Northeastern, though, played the deepest into the season, advancing to the program’s first sectional championship game before falling to Eastern Hancock.
The 2014 season is right around the corner with various new coaches and returning faces.
The Patriots claimed the TEC title for the eighth time since the conference had enough teams to crown a champion.
UC finished 6-1 despite new faces from the 2012 regional championship team.
Most return, though the Patriots will have to replace the arm and bat of No. 1 pitcher Allison Franklin and center fielder Shelby Sharpe.
All-TEC selection Brooke Reiboldt returns and will be the No. 1 pitcher, while sophomore Danielle Franklin saw time in the circle last year. UC coach Scott Gray said the two could alternate between the circle and third base this year.
“That’s the one thing right now we’re limited on this year,” Gray said. “I think our quality will be good, but the number of pitchers are all at the younger levels.”
Everyone else returns, including senior all-TEC Maria Duckworth, who will play first base again, and all-TEC sophomore shortstop Tanner Henry.
Krista Hofer (second base) is also a returning senior, while juniors Alisha Burkhead and Emily Goecke are expected to see time in the outfield and sophomore Madison Walters returns after winning the starting job at catcher.
Juniors Izzy Hampton and Maddie Fulton also look to contribute, and Gray said freshmen Emma Adams, Makayla Pike and Caitlyn Charles will battle for playing time.
Union County opens the season Tuesday at home vs. New Castle.
“I think we have great young talent mixed in with a great group of seniors,” Gray said, “Only having three seniors and a couple juniors, you’re still young, and I think it’s going to be good things for us. I think there are several teams in the conference that are going to be good.”
New Knights coach Geoff Williams was an assistant with Northeastern softball for two seasons.
He takes over a young team that made history by advancing to the sectional title game.
The Knights finished 13-13 last year, 4-3 in TEC play and won the Wayne County championship.
However, it’s a new start as just seniors Emily Loden and Mercedes Himebaugh, junior Katie Jackson and sophomore Madeline Adams return.
Loden and Jackson were the team’s middle infielders, Adams started in center field and Amber Stubblefield is a junior who has decided to come out for the team.
Williams is excited about an incoming freshman class that includes Sierra Gilmore, Katie Schneider, Katlyn Williams, Carli Williams, Mikayla Hornung and Lauren Ingalls. Carli Williams is Geoff Williams’ daughter.
“I coached a lot of travel teams and brought my daughter up through the pitching ranks, so I understand the game a lot,” Geoff Williams said.
Loden has the most varsity pitching experience, and Williams said Gilmore, Schneider and Carli Williams could also see time from the circle.
The Knights host Wapahani on April 7 for the season opener.
Scott Griffin returns for a third year at Lincoln and has a mix of experience and youth.
Three returning seniors were starters: catcher Haley Hall, shortstop Kristen Meal and first baseman Tayler Pennington. Bailey Hook also returns, and junior Sydney Griffin will return after two standout years in the circle and at the plate.
Meal, Hall and Griffin were all-TEC selections, while Pennington was honorable mention.
Brooke Crouch is a returning sophomore, Dakota Harrison is new to the team, and a big group of talented freshmen has coach Griffin excited.
They are Cassie Mattingly, Kerrigan Neff, Alex Cox, Sydney Miller, Whitney West, Allison Johnson, Karlee Shank and Shaina Jolley.
“I think we’re going to be strong,” coach Griffin said. “Some of these freshmen, they’ve played some travel ball and they’re not your typical freshman class, but past that, I think we’re going to be pretty solid.”
Lincoln earned a share of the TEC title in 2005 and 2012, sharing it both times with Union County.
The Golden Eagles open April 8 against Muncie South.
Centerville had a breakout season in Wayne County that had the Bulldogs with a chance at a share of the TEC title.
They had to settle for a three-way tie for second place, and raised expectations as head coach Avon Miller returns for a third year.
Morgan Pruitt and Alexx Marshall are returning seniors, while basketball standout Makayla McFarland is out for the team.
Juniors Alexis Cox, Destiny Maitlen, Nicole Spurrier, Mallory Adams, sophomores Madison Clark, Maggie Curts, Lauren Honkomp, Natalie Josephson, Hannah Morgan, Kaylin Smith, Amanda Wilson and freshmen Madison Barrett, Kaylee Duncil and Madison Read are expected to contribute.
Cox is expected to move behind the plate from the shortstop position, and Honkomp is the team’s ace after striking out 110 as a freshman.
Cox and Honkomp were both all-TEC and Wilson and Maitlen were honorable mentions.
“I’m still looking at the sticks and the batting trying to determine who’s going to be the strongest at the points that I can distribute them,” Miller said. ” …With my returning group, I feel I’ve got a couple veterans and my sophomores and I have some promising freshmen. I’m looking forward to a real positive season.”
The Bulldogs open the season April 8.
Another team with an improved season was Hagerstown. At 12-16, the Tigers finished with the best record in program history and earned the program’s first sectional victory.
Kevin Rogers, an assistant girls basketball coach, takes over as head coach.
Anna Oakes anchors four returning seniors and has the most varsity pitching experience, though she missed time last year with injury.
Amanda Thackrey returns to third base and Cara Brown and Amanda White will look to earn playing time.
Juniors Megan Johnson, Linsey Farr and Kaley Caudill look to log innings, and Rogers said Alyson Stover, Hannah Blumer and Vivian Pearson are looking to split time with JV and varsity.
Sophomores Morgan Masters and Gabby Willis return after starting as freshmen.
Johnson and Willis were all-TEC selections for the Tigers.
Freshman Brytni Dale is expected to see a lot of the pitching duties, while Ashley Strunk could also make an impact as a freshman.
“They’re very disciplined,” Rogers said. “They can do their drills by themselves … I like the communication — they’re just a good group. They work well together.”
The Tigers open the season at home April 5 opposite New Castle.
A face familiar to area softball is the new leader at Winchester.
Doug Tidrow takes over. He has head coaching experience at Richmond and Lincoln, assistant coaching experience at Centerville and Union County and lots of energy.
Tidrow will try to turn around a Winchester team that did not win a game last year, but has about 15 girls out this year, Tidrow said.
Expected to contribute are senior Jessica Woolf, juniors Patty Newman and Brianna Weist, sophomores Rebecca Neville and Lindsey McCoy and freshman Megan Donham.
McCoy was an honorable-mention all-TEC selection.
“I’m excited as far as the direction we’re going,” Tidrow said. “The girls in general, my team just is a real good group. … They’re all working real hard to get better, and I think we have a positive outlook at Winchester.”
The Falcons open the season April 8 at Daleville.
A historic season for Randolph Southern ended in a heartbreaking loss at semistate. The Rebels won the school’s first Class A regional championship, shortly after earning the program’s second sectional crown.
Good news is, the Rebels return the majority of that roster. Randolph Southern was 12-13 in 2013.
However, former coach Steve Bray is now the baseball coach at Northeastern and Brian Gilmore is the leader in Lynn.
Interest has sparked Union to add varsity softball with Daleville grad Jeff Burke taking on coaching duties.
A big freshman class and lots of energy have Burke excited, though some upperclassmen are out for the team, too.
Sam Wilson will be the only senior, Kortney McNamara and Lacy Miller are juniors, DeAnn Kauffman and Courtney Hicks are sophomores and the rest are freshmen.
They are Mackyndsea Burke, Alex Conner, Jordan Conner, Brittany Norman, Kacie McNamara, Becca Glaser, Delaney McPhee, Taylor Miller and Faithlan Ellis.
The Rockets will have just two home games, which will be played at the Modoc park April 10 against Muncie South and May 13 against Winchester. They open the season April 8 at Tri.
“I’m pretty optimistic,” coach Burke said. “They’re pretty athletic, it’s just, they have to learn some different things — stealing, bunting, hitting is coming along.”
Krista Smith enters her first season as head coach for National Trail.
Smith has some strong returning talent, including infielders Maegan Rogers and Jenn Stan, pitcher Allison Unger and sophomore Aleah Hunt.
Hunt and Stan will help the Blazers’ offensive efforts, with the top of the lineup being a strength, according to Smith.
“They are working really hard to get where we want to be,” Smith said. “I have a lot of leadership.”
Smith said the Blazers’ hard work extends to defense and infield play should also be a strength.
The Blazers went 7-18 last year, 2-10 in CCC play. They open Wednesday at Dixie.
“(We’re) ready for the warm weather to hopefully pick up so we can play,” Smith said.
Second-year coach Alisha Degenhart is optimistic as Eaton prepares for its 2014 spring season.
“I am very excited,” Degenhart said. “I know the girls are very excited. We only lost a few seniors. We are still young and have a very good bunch to work with this year.”
Jordyn Worley (left field and shortstop), Kassidy Melling (center field) and Meghan Puckett (pitcher) are some of the key players returning for the Eagles.
“We have some power hitters on the team,” Degenhart said.
Degenhart was very encouraged by Eaton’s performance in a recent scrimmage against Beavercreek, and she looks for the Eagles to be improved defensively this season.
The Eagles open at home today in a doubleheader against Tri-Village.
“I really feel good about this season,” Degenhart said.
Tri-Village opens its season with a doubleheader today at Eaton.
The coach for the Patriots is Tracy Barhorst.
Junior Ecko Brown returns after being named to the all-Cross County Conference first team, and senior Krystal Falknor earned second-team honors.
Abby Harrison is also a senior, while Barhorst will work with juniors Rachel Fickert, an all-CCC honorable mention in 2013; Jenna Spurrier; and Alex Bietry.
Nine freshmen will vie for the rest of the roster spots.
Tri-Village went 15-7 last year, 7-5 in the CCC.