As the softball season gets started in Southern Indiana, Floyd Central and Jennings County are likely to battle for supremacy in the rugged Hoosier Hills Conference.
The Highlanders are ranked No. 3 and No. 6 in two different statewide rankings, and first-year coach Sean Payne said they have their sights on nothing short of a state title.
“We know we have a bull’s-eye on our backs,” Payne said. “These girls have been around and they’ll be able to handle it.”
Here’s a rundown on some of the area’s top teams.
Floyd Central (28-7-1): Expectations are high for the Highlanders, who return seven starters and many are high-level recruits.
Floyd Central is led by Gabbi Jenkins, a shortstop and pitcher who has signed with Indiana; junior Taylor Castleberry, who has committed to Ball State; junior Jensen Striegel, a Murray State commit; senior pitcher Kassie King, a University of Indianapolis signee; and junior Jenna Endris, who is uncommitted.
A year ago, Jenkins had a state-best 56 RBIs along with a .475 batting average.
“She’s a stud,” Payne said. “There’s no doubt about it — both offensively and defensively. She’s a great player and an even better kid.”
Payne said offense shouldn’t be a problem for the Highlanders.
“We can definitely hit the ball,” he said.
Borden (23-4) :The Braves return eight starters from last year’s team that lost to Hauser 2-0 in the Class A semi-state at North Daviess.
Borden is led by junior twins Paige and Riley Schindler, both of whom have committed to the University of Louisville.
“If we can hit a little better, I think we can have a really good year,” said coach Michelle Schindler, mother of the Schindler twins. “Our goal is to improve on our record from a year ago and keep getting mentally tougher. We want to continue to build Borden’s softball program.”
Charlestown (22-5): With eight seniors back, the Pirates can be expected to challenge in the Mid-Southern Conference and the Class 3-A Corydon Sectional.
Charlestown is led by pitcher Carley Price (15-5), an all-conference player the last four years; senior Leah Sherrill; and junior Mackenzie Smith.
These eight seniors at Charlestown have been part of two conference titles and two sectional championships.
Henryville (26-5): The Hornets — with six starters back — should be a force in the Class 2-A race, featuring a couple of four-year starters in seniors Emily Hollis (an IU Southeast signee) and Emma Hendricks (Purdue Calumet).
Coach Jenny Schroeder will rely on a couple of solid pitchers in junior Peyton Ottersbach and sophomore Lexie McAfee.
“They’re both really good,” said Schroeder, who said she will platoon her two pitchers.
Jennings County (23-7): The Panthers are led by senior Kyndyl Olds, a four-year starter in centerfield and a IU Southeast signee. She will get help from junior shortstop Sidney Gerkin and senior pitcher Bug Donnell (10-4, 2.31 ERA).
New Albany (16-8): The Bulldogs return five starters, led by sure-handed third baseman Kennedy Wynn, who has signed with Ball State.
“She does everything well,” New Albany coach Steve Belden said. “She’s also a great leader.”
Wynn will get help from senior centerfielder Jena Fath, a first-team all-conference selection a year ago.
On the mound, the Bulldogs will count on Whitney Atkins.
“We hope she can keep us in games early in the year,” Belden said.
Clarksville (13-14): The Generals are led by a senior battery combination of pitcher Bailey Sharp and catcher Ciera Early, and shortstop Ally Weber.
“Our pitching is solid,” coach Ron Sharp said. “We’ve just got to able to make plays and hit the ball. . . We’re better this year. We’ve got a lot of talent.”
Clarksville also should get a lift from Camri Thomas, who transferred from New Albany.