Increased participation has teams gearing to start
Across the four Harrison County softball programs, each team finished with a record above .500 last spring.
Lanesville is coming off a Class 1A regional championship but must replace a bulk of players lost to graduation. South Central, meanwhile, has few holes to fill as it builds off a 10-win campaign.
Within the Mid-Southern Conference, Corydon Central brings back experience while North Harrison seeks to fill voids as Tim Smith takes over the coaching duties.
Here is a preview for each area softball program:
Not much is missing from Corydon Central’s 18-win team of a season ago. There may be, however, some added fire.
The Lady Panthers figured to be one of the sectional contenders a year ago but came up short in the 3A semi-final.
‘They feel there is unfinished business left on the table from last year,’ Corydon Central coach Kevin Oskin said. ‘I think that loss to Salem is driving them a little bit.’
The Lady Panthers graduated one senior a season ago, Tatum Bratcher, a player who came off the bench. There is one missing piece to the infield as Amelia Yeager isn’t back after suffering an injury during the off-season.
‘We will have 10 of the 11 that played a majority of the time last year back,’ coach Jeff Carver said. ‘Our crew has grown up to 25 from the 16 that came out last year.’
A large group of 11 freshmen enter to go with the veteran classes. Even with all the returnees, the Lady Panthers have four seniors on the current roster. Twins Kaleigh and Sydney Oskin return to rotate from the pitching circle to shortstop between them. Brianna Harper also returns for her senior year along with Leighann Steiner, both of whom play outfield spots.
Sydney (1.73 ERA, 111 strikeouts) and Kaleigh (2.18 ERA, 67 strikeouts) are a 1-2 punch at the disposal of the coaching staff to use in the circle. Both have twirled in multiple seasons.
‘We have some more pitchers behind the Oskins,’ Carver said. ‘Our sophomore (Katie Fessel) has developed more over the winter, and we have a freshman throwing too.’
The Oskins, both committed to Bellarmine University, have spent much of their high school career near the top of the Lady Panthers’ batting order. Sydney posted big numbers as a junior with a .471 average, 25 runs and five triples. Kaleigh was strong too at a .316 average and 16 RBIs.
Also back is the Oskins’ receiver in junior catcher Grace Carver (.364 average, 13 RBIs). Returning junior contributors include second baseman Alexis Orme (.333 average, four doubles) and center fielder Cami Schmitt (.295 average).
To go with Fessel in the sophomore class, a handful of her classmates saw varsity action as freshmen. Samie Ripperdan and Katelyn Paden saw time in the outfield, while Emily Harbaugh played first base. Sophomore Cierra Smith transferred from South Central and has jumped into the mix as an infield option.
‘I think Emily and Katelyn fit in well last year as freshmen,’ coach Carver said. ‘Samie was hurt early in the season and came in three or four weeks late and worked her way into the starting lineup. She’s continued to work hard.’
The coaching staff said they have a group of players in a mix to take over the third-base duties. One area the staff aims to improve is strengthening the bottom of the lineup.
‘I think one through six we are juggling with who fits best where, but we are solid overall,’ coach Carver said. ‘It’s getting our seven, eight and nine (hitters) going to turn it back over to the top.’
With added numbers to the program, the coaching staff said they have a better plan in regard to depth at positions. They think early in the pre-season that 14 to 15 girls are varsity ready to fill roles.
‘They work hard every day out here,’ coach Josh Orme said. ‘You can tell they have goals set they want to reach.’
The team also has worked on team-building activities and working together on fund-raiser events. As a program, Corydon Central will host sectional the next two seasons. Spectators will notice upgrades to the facility, including a six-foot outfield fence and windscreens.
Coach Orme said the team has a good balance of speed and power. The coaches believe, from top to bottom as a program, team speed has shown improvement.
‘Everybody wants to push the limits to where we went last year,’ coach Carver said. ‘They are capable of it. The talent, ability and numbers are there. It’s a matter of making it happen.’
It’s reload time for the Lanesville softball program.
Coming off a banner year, one in which the Lady Eagles shocked defending Class 1A state champ Borden on the way to a regional title, a reload is underway. Lost to graduation were seven seniors, all of whom were contributors.
Two holdovers ” pitcher/infielder Katelyn Hurley and infielder Mackenzie Miller ” bring back significant varsity experience.
‘Every position is replaced except for pitcher,’ Lanesville coach Eric Pavey said. ‘Katelyn is the lone returner to her position. Mackenzie is a returning infielder, but we’re moving her to another position (from second base to shortstop). It’s been a good competition early on to determine positions. As I mention every year, every practice is a competition.’
Hurley is steady as they come in the circle. She posted a 1.69 ERA and struck out 97 batters. She only walked 24 in 136-2/3 innings and has signed to play at Kentucky State University.
‘My feeling is she’s one of the best pitchers, if not the best pitcher, in Southern Indiana,’ Pavey said. ‘She has proven herself. She’s a smart pitcher and seasoned. She’s poised to have a big year.’
As a senior, Hurley will be one of the leaders on the squad. She’ll also move to the heart of the batting order, seeking to drive in runs as she comes off hitting .355 a year ago.
Miller has been a two-year contributer at second base. She’ll make the shift to short for her junior season.
‘She was (All-Southern Athletic Conference) as a freshman,’ Pavey said. ‘She fell back a little last year, but she’s back to where she needs to be. She’s taken on more of a leadership role.’
Overall, Pavey raves about his team speed.
‘This is the fastest team I’ve ever had,’ he said. ‘Being aggressive on the base paths is going to be what we do … I want to leg singles into doubles, steal bases and run when you should be running. We want to put pressure on defenses.’
Defensively, the coach believes they will be fine, but questions remain in the batter’s box. There will be several new faces prepared to hit varsity pitching, some coming up from the JV ranks.
‘We need them to get at-bats,’ Pavey said. ‘For a 1A program, I have 24 kids out, so we are trying to figure out how to get players a good number of quality at-bats and see live pitching.’
Seniors Danielle Brown and Makayla Philpott missed time last year due to injuries. Both had fewer than 20 at-bats in varsity contests. Brown seeks to slide in at third base, while Philpott battles for a corner outfield spot. Seniors Hailey Reas and Haley Smith also make the move up to varsity and will compete for outfield positions.
‘I can see every senior on our team contributing in a role somewhere,’ Pavey said. ‘It could be base running, hitting or in the field.’
Junior Jessica Smith displayed a good bat at the JV level a year ago and looks to handle first-base duties. Sophomores Lily Romeo and Abby Duncan make the step up to full-time duty.
‘I’m really impressed with Abby Duncan, who will take over second base,’ Pavey said.
Romeo will set up shop in centerfield.
‘(Duncan) played sparingly and was a back-up pitcher last year,’ the coach said. ‘She’s shown us some good things.’
Pavey said there is good competition for catcher and outfield.
‘Effort,’ Pavey repeated several times. ‘Dive, and show me something. Show me effort and you will earn a spot. Kids are going to make errors and bad plays. How you react after that play can tell me more than the mistake you made. Just give me effort.’
Tim Smith has stepped into the head coaching role at North Harrison. No stranger to the program, Smith was an assistant coach for three seasons.
‘I’ve been around the program for a while,’ he said. ‘I know the girls. Some of the younger ones are players I have worked with in our middle school program. They know me, and I know them.’
Smith said he hopes to bring stability to the coaching box at North Harrison, which has kept the same assistant coaches from the previous season.
‘We’re all here to coach the kids and get them better,’ Smith said.
The Lady Cats saw a large senior class pass through a season ago, including a bulk of the infield and pitcher positions. Thus far, Smith said he is encouraged by his pitching depth. Junior Grace Schroeder returns after mostly seeing relief duty at the varsity level. She logged 14-2/3 innings and recorded three saves.
‘The best thing I like is our pitching,’ Smith said. ‘Before, we’ve just had one strong, steady pitcher. We bring back a junior, Grace Schroeder, who was a back-up. We also have two freshmen pitchers who have looked pretty good so far. Grace is vying for the starting spot, but it’s still up in the air.’
Four seniors make up the 2018 class: Janelle Amy, Sydney King, Hannah Ingle and Rachel Purser. King returns to the team after sitting out her junior year and looks to fill in at third base. Amy and Ingle are in the mix for middle infield positions.
Purser, signed to play next season at Kentucky Christian University, holds down the spot at first base. She drove in 19 RBIs as a junior while hitting .361 at the dish.
‘Rachel hit the ball well for us last year,’ Smith said. ‘We’ve been working in the (batting cages) and have been doing real well. It made me think we are going to be a good hitting team. Then, we come out for our first scrimmage and struggled to hit. So, we are looking to take our fundamental work to the field. We need to get reps against live pitching.’
To go with Purser’s experience, the infield is looking to sort itself out during practices.
‘We’re getting a lot of reps with our girls,’ Smith said. ‘I tell our upperclassmen to not get complacent and comfy because there are a lot of kids behind you that want to play. We have 21 girls out, so the competition is there.’
Jada Peyton, a junior, emerged as the full-time catcher last season. She provided a strong bat as well, belting a pair of home runs with a .353 average.
‘Jada is our experienced catcher,’ Smith said. ‘We have a few freshmen behind her who can catch too.’
Smith said he’s looking to put his best nine on the field.
‘We have some spots where we graduated some really good players,’ he said. ‘We have to fill in second, short and third.’
The outfield is mostly back with juniors Kendall Beyerle and Kaitlynn Crone handling center and right, respectively.
‘Our outfield returns some good players like KB in center and Crone back in right,’ Smith said. ‘One of our juniors, Jaden Wingler will likely be in left field.’
Crone hit .355 a season ago with three triples while Beyerle provided pop with a pair of homers.
‘I think we’ll have a pretty good base set this year,’ Smith said. ‘I think we’ll be OK and competitive. I’m excited for the year.’
The younger programs also are gaining steam as well. North Harrison has a middle school team along with a developmental program set for fifth and sixth graders.
Much of the preseason has seen the Lady Cats practice on the youth league fields while the main diamond underwent off-season attention.
‘A water line went through the field, which ended up being beneficial because they installed an irrigation and drainage system,’ Smith said. ‘We’ve done a ton of work but need the weather to cooperate to get the field ready.’
It’s building time for the South Central softball program. Coming off a winning season ‘ a 10-9 record ‘ the Lady Rebels graduated one and return a bulk of its lineup.
‘We definitely had a positive year last year,’ South Central coach Katie Crecelius said. ‘We had a winning season, but we are looking to move up from that. The lineup was solidified late last season. I’d like to bunt the ball a little more this year, steal a few more bases. On the bases, I want them to be a little more aggressive.’
One of the goals for the team isn’t necessarily wins and losses, but team bonding.
‘We want to go forward as a team of 15 girls and not as individuals,’ Crecelius said. ‘We’ve done more things together, which is exciting. It’s been team driven too. They want to be closer.’
Two seniors ” pitcher/infielder Sydney Lewis and catcher/infielder Jordan Renn ” return with plenty of varsity playing experience. Also returning is senior Brinley Kauffman.
‘We have a nice core of seniors that bring leadership,’ Crecelius said. ‘Sydney provides a lot of talent for us. She’s matured a lot over the last couple of years as far as handling pitching and game situations. She’s definitely becoming more of a leader on the mound. She’s grown into her voice. Jordan is a great leader and positive role model. She knows how to keep people’s heads up, whether she’s behind the plate or at shortstop.’
Crecelius said the team is working out players at multiple positions. With 15 in camp, the aim is more flexibility.
‘I feel we have a good group of utility players,’ she said. ‘We are going to see different people playing a lot of different spots. A lot will depend on who is on the mound.’
Lewis logged 91 innings as a junior in the circle. She’ll be joined by freshmen Brooklyn Lewis and junior Annabelle Faith as pitching options.
Kendall Miller made a splash as a freshman, hitting .349 while belting a pair of home runs. Fellow teammate Morgan Mills is now a sophomore as well and posted a .314 batting average as a freshman.
‘Kendall and Morgan were our two top hitters from last year,’ Crecelius said. ‘Jordan comes back as our lead-off. She may stay in that spot, but we could move her around. She is a risk-taker and runs the bases aggressively.’
Junior Aubrey May returns as well and is an infield option along with Miller and Renn. The latter are also catchers.
Two outfielders return in sophomores Natalie Stopinski and Mahaily Scott. Others are looking to push for positions, including junior Maddie Riley, sophomore Alyssa Pumphrey and freshmen Brooklynn Smith and Avey Crowe.
‘I tell the girls I’m really excited because it’s good to have a lot of people who can play a lot of spots,’ Crecelius said. ‘It wasn’t long ago this program was the opposite … We’re excited about having more well-rounded players.’
One motto thus far has been to ‘practice until you get it right, but practice until you can’t get it wrong.’ Many of the hitting drills have been about repetition and creating muscle memory.
‘We’ve worked a ton on our swings the first few weeks,’ Crecelius said. ‘It’s been a lot of tee work, soft toss and getting back to basics.’
A few players are hobbled by some injuries, but the coach hopes they can heal during spring break and be ready for approaching games.
‘I’ve been impressed with our group so far,’ Crecelius said. ‘Our sophomores have come back with more leadership and are becoming more outspoken. Brooklyn Lewis and Brooklynn Smith have impressed me out of our freshmen group.’