In three straight trips to the state tournament, the Male High School softball team has improved from an 0-2 finish in 2013 to a third-place position in 2014 and a runner-up spot last year.
Coach Josh Bloomer knows all that’s left is winning the big one.
“The players have worked unbelievably hard the past three years to build the program into one of the top in the state,” Bloomer said. “We want to build on that foundation and take one more step each year. I believe we have all the pieces to the puzzle this year. It’s now my job to put the pieces together correctly by the time the postseason rolls around.”
Male will have several new faces this season but also returns four key players from last season’s squad that finished 38-9 after falling to McCracken County in the state final. The Bulldogs were ranked No. 4 in the state in the Kentucky Softball Coaches Association’s preseason Top 25.
Center fielder Taylor Childress, a Western Kentucky signee, is the senior anchor after batting .431 last season and recording a team-high 18 stolen bases.
Junior Olivia Suski is strong at the plate (10 home runs, 32 RBIs last season) and in the pitcher’s circle (20-6, 4 saves). Junior catcher Dani Walls (Murray State commit, .343, four home runs, 22 RBIs) and sophomore infielder Alyssa Case (.381) also return.
“We’ve looked very good offensively in the preseason, and once we see more live pitching in game situations I feel we have the ability to put up a lot of runs,” Bloomer said.
Here’s a look at other Louisville-area teams (note: several schools did not respond to requests for information):
* Beth Haven (4-6 last year) has a new coach in Kacie Vincent, who will lean on senior infielders Lina Brown, Savannah Scott and Katelyn Elmore, junior catcher Lexi Beard and seventh-grade pitcher Bethany Houchins.
* No. 12 Bullitt East (17-14-1) will be a top contender for the regional title behind sophomore pitcher Taylor Roby (University of Louisville commit), senior outfielder Shelby Maros and junior infielder Lindsay Renneisen.
* No. 22 Butler (25-9) features a pair of solid pitchers in juniors Hailey Whitmer and Annabelle Ramirez and is led on offense by senior outfielder Kayla McCauley (Lindsey Wilson commit).
* Fairdale (12-18) has a new coach in Terrence Bruner, whose top returnees include senior infielder/outfielder Autumn Keown, senior pitcher/first baseman Tiffany Price, junior outfielder Tessa Repstock and sophomore utility player Camryn Davidson.
* Fern Creek (20-12-1) has eight starters back from last season, led by seniors Jennifer Leonhardt, Beth Dichira, Kayte Blandford, Shelbi Knauer and Taylor Parks. Leonhardt, a pitcher/infielder, has signed with Southern Indiana.
* Holy Cross (28-13) lost seven seniors off last year’s team that was the regional runner-up but has a solid core led by seniors Shelby Atzinger and Allie Just and junior Ally Klein. Atzinger, a shortstop, has signed with Eastern Kentucky.
* Jeffersontown (8-23-1) hopes to improve behind junior first baseman Karleigh Rapson, junior catcher/second baseman Kayla Powell, sophomore shortstop Samantha Cook and sophomore pitcher Savannah Brinley.
* Mercy (26-15) has won four straight regional titles but must replace a wealth of talent lost to graduation. Junior catcher Abby Wilder is the top returning hitter after batting .312 with six doubles and 25 RBIs last season. Other top returners are senior outfielder Kasey Kinsey (.304, 20 stolen bases), senior outfielder Alexis Jones (.289), junior outfielder Melissa Collins (.290), junior catcher/third baseman Jordyn Sanders (.256) and sophomore pitcher Lexi Ray (.283).
* Pleasure Ridge Park (17-16) has one of the area’s top catchers in senior Arianna Garris.
* Western (0-11) will try to improve behind a roster filled with freshmen and sophomores.
* No. 16 Assumption (21-14 last year) was the regional runner-up last year and has one of the city’s top pitchers in senior Sabrina Fussenegger, a Bellarmine University signee. The Rockets also have a new coach in Lisa Pinkston.
* Atherton (17-15) doesn’t have a senior on the roster and will lean on junior infielder/outfielder Jaycee Head, junior pitcher/catcher Allison Weihe, sophomore pitcher/infielder Caitlyn Taylor and sophomore catcher Lauren Bale.
* No. 10 Ballard (23-13-1) has a veteran pitching staff led by senior Akilah Monzon, a transfer from New Jersey who has committed to Illinois, and junior Sarah Brill (1.02 ERA). Top returning hitters include junior third baseman Skyelar Houston (.410), senior first baseman Alexis Smith (.454), sophomore pitcher/infielder Shelby Kelley (.422) and junior outfielder Catie Barber (.432).
* Brown (2-6) hopes to improve on last year’s record behind first-year coach Suzannah Parrish.
* Central (5-11) has a new coach in Samantha Pitts, whose top returning players include senior catcher/first baseman Alexis Cannon, senior catcher/outfielder Jasmine Burkhead and sophomore pitcher Leigh Himes.
* Christian Academy (22-10-1) has an inexperienced squad, according to coach Kyle Mullin. Leaders include senior pitcher/infielder Caroline Lefan, senior catcher Sam Thompson, senior outfielder Hannah Howes, sophomore pitcher/infielder Sarah Ratterman and freshman pitcher/infielder Loren Simpson.
* Eastern (23-9) has three seniors on the roster in pitcher/outfielder Elise Boteler, infielder Ashley Kelley and pitcher/outfielder Olivia Leet.
* Manual (26-8) has struggled with injuries in the early part of the season but should be strong behind a trio of seniors in pitcher Madison Williams (Jackson State commit), outfielder Abigail Harper and second baseman Kristen Smith.
* Portland Christian (9-10) will be led by senior pitcher Megan Cherry (8-7 record last season) and sophomore shortstop Lydia Cyrus.
* Presentation (20-17) could be a dark horse in the region behind senior pitcher Taylor Lee (19-16 record, .439 batting average), junior catcher Abby Shipley (.433), junior infielder Ashley Swearingen (.388) and sophomore infielder/outfielder Courtney Lyn (.423).
* Sacred Heart (15-15) has a young team that will lean on senior catcher Caroline Culver, senior outfielder Emily Schulman, junior pitcher Emma Burnett, junior third baseman Claire Ely and junior outfielder Kelly McCauley. Shortstop Alley Puckett is a top freshman.
* Waggener (8-15) has a new coach in Casandra Schaad, who will lean on a trio of returning seniors in shortstop Destiny Morgan (.324, 20 RBIs), pitcher/center fielder Daja McAtee (.333) and first baseman Taja Brown (.461).
* Collins (24-11 last year) lost to Anderson County in the regional final last year and will be led by senior catcher Janelle Hynes, freshman pitcher Carson Murray and sophomore pitcher Paige Oldham.
* Oldham County (22-16) returned everyone from last season’s squad that reached the regional semifinals, including senior pitcher Kirsten Smith, junior third baseman Haley Springer, junior center fielder Patyon Hamm and sophomore right fielder Taylor Sheller.
* Shelby County (20-16) has a solid infield led by senior shortstop Sydney Wright (.351), senior third baseman Jessie Vermillion (.307, two home runs) and sophomore second baseman Hannah Webb (.442).
* South Oldham (1-21) has a new coach in Jim Prather, who will try to turn around the program behind several youngsters — freshman catcher Mikayla Benson, freshman pitcher Hailee Bates, eighth-grade pitcher Aaliyah Tomes and seventh-grade infielder Keirstin Kennedy.
* Spencer County (16-14) has a new coach in Jimmy Schmidt, who will lean on a trio of strong hitters in freshman pitcher Emily Cole (.489), senior center fielder Kendall Horn (.408) and senior first baseman Olivia McAllister (.407).
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and email@example.com.
HIGH SCHOOL SOFTBALL
* Defending state champion: McCracken County.
* District tournaments: Start May 23.
* Regional tournaments: Start May 30.
* State tournament: June 9-11, Fisher Park, Owensboro
* Top 25 (from Kentucky Softball Coaches Association): 1. McCracken County, 2. Woodford County, 3. Scott County, 4. Male, 5. Madisonville-North Hopkins, 6. Anderson County, 7. Warren East, 8. East Jessamine, 9. North Laurel, 10. Ballard, 11. Daviess County, 12. Bullitt East, 13. Meade County, 14. East Carter, 15. South Warren, 16. Assumption, 17. Owensboro Catholic, 18. Highlands, 19. Green County, 20. South Laurel, 21. Christian County, 22. Butler, 23. Lafayette, 24. Ashland Blazer, 25. Central Hardin.