By Jake Thompson and Justin Whitaker
— Softball season begins this coming week, starting with the Hendricks County tournament for most teams.
Plainfield took home a state championship last year and many other squads in the county were also very successful and look to be this season as well.
By winning the school’s second team state championship in its history with a fantastic postseason run, the Quakers softball team enters this year in unfamiliar territory. As the defending state champs, Plainfield coach Brad Beaman knows his team will be under fire each game, getting their opponents’ best efforts each time out.
“After last season, we’ll have targets on our backs,” Beaman said. “We’ve talked about the fact that last season is last season and we have to focus on this season right now. One pitch at a time, one game at time, and as long as we continue to get better as we go, then we can have success this season.”
Plainfield will rely heavily on seniors Erin Laswell, Brooke Bryant, Maggie Stahl, and Mackenzie Jeffries.
As a group, Beaman said they provide “some strong senior leadership that I will depend on as the season goes.”
The Quakers will need all the help they can get as they lost three starters from last year and their starting pitcher. Laswell will take over a bulk of the pitching duties.
However, the entire infield returns from last season for the Quakers, minus their catcher. Mackenzie Reeder holds down third, Maggie Stahl takes up shortstop, Jeffries anchors second, and Kelsey Bruhn will be at first. Bryant is the lone returner in the outfield.
Offensively, Beaman said he hopes the team will start off where they ended last season, combining for well over a .350 batting average as a team.
“With some help from some younger players, we hope to be solid,” Beaman said. “Our goal this season is to be fundamentally sound and to believe in each other and finish strong.”
County competition will be tough to begin the year and as the Quakers head through the season. With some good conference competition, teams will likely give Plainfield their best performances. All of that should toughen the Quakers up for another postseason run.
“It speaks well of the county to have two Hendricks County teams in the state championship back-to-back (years),” he said. “I think the county should be strong again with all teams being contenders as well as at their sectionals. Conference is still going to be tough for us as Greenwood is very strong.”
Coming off its school’s first-ever sectional title last season, the Bethesda softball team is primed to make another run as they return a bulk of their roster. After winning a title and returning a majority of its roster, many teams would look ahead thinking of greater accomplishments.
Not so for coach Terry Benge and the Patriots as he wants his young squad to focus on improving throughout the season and let the cards fall where they may come sectional time.
“We don’t feel a sense of urgency but we are really concentrating on one win, one game at a time,” he said. “We’re a young team, so to be looking at sectionals or beyond right now I feel would be a mistake.”
Returning to lead the Patriots are seniors Jordan Benge and Kendra Okey.
“Kendra will be the balance point in centerfield and Jordan will be leading our infield from the shortstop position,” Benge said.
Sophomore Kylie Minton led Bethesda both offensively and from the mound last year. Minton tallied a .500 batting average with 24 RBI and finished 8-2 with a 3.25 ERA and 70 strikeouts.
“Kylie did an outstanding job as a freshman starting pitcher last year and has only gotten stronger and more mature as a sophomore,” Benge said.
Backing up Minton will be Emily Hayden and Benge said they are both “very capable.”
“(Emily) will be pitching to give relief for Kylie to help keep us fresh for a run at the end of the season,” Benge said.
One area of concern for Bethesda last season were fielding errors, something the Patriots seem ready to remedy this year.
“Defensively, we have really picked up some speed and some really strong arms,” Benge said. “We feel that we have the opportunity to cut down on our errors from last year and that will make us a much better team defensively.”
Combined with what Benge calls a “much more balanced lineup” offensively and one that does not “really have a weak spot,” the Patriots should have no problem scoring runs.
“I think the key for us will be patience. If we just play one out at a time, I think this team will find great success,” Benge said. “Bethesda has a team that really gives us a solid base to build on for several years to come. My coaching staff and I are really excited for this year and honestly what we could build on for the future.”
It was a year of heartbreak for the Cascade softball team last season, coming in fourth in the county championship and second in the West Central Conference despite a fantastic 24-5 record. Compounding those disappointments, Cascade fell to eventual state champion South Putnam 3-2 in a sectional final that went 12 innings.
“Seems that many people are putting a lot of expectations on us,” Cascade coach Don Helmick said. “I have told the girls to ignore this. We lost three seniors and another starter due to an injury. It’s safe to say we lost quite a bit in those four. To duplicate last year’s success for us will be tough, but I know (we can do it) if the kids work hard and understand saying they want something to happen doesn’t mean it will. They have to do the things it takes for it to happen.”
Putting aside the obstacle of replacing those players, Helmick still has big aspirations for his team.
“Our first goal for the season is to win a conference,” he said. “Cascade has never won a conference in softball. That will be a good place to start.”
Winning a conference title will take leadership and the Cadets are looking to senior Brandyce Sallee and junior Kellie Mink. Both were voted team captains this season for the Cadets.
Taking over pitching for the Cadets will be Mink and Kate Breedlove.
“Kate and Kellie both have started games since their freshman year at the varsity level,” Helmick said. “They both pitch year-round and have really worked hard in the offseason. They both have multiple pitches and upper 50, low 60 speed.”
Defensively, Cascade must replace a shortstop, first baseman, and two outfielders. No small task to be sure, but Helmick said he believes the team can make the adjustments and he hopes to “get less errors and make plays” from the group he’s putting on the field.
Sallee, Mink, and Morgan Burch anchor the Cadets offensively and each hit multiple homeruns last season. Also, the Cadets bring back a lot of hitters that had high on-base percentages last season.
“Time will tell,” Helmick said about the Cadets’ hitting. “It’s a lot easier hitting off a 40-year-old coach who can’t throw, than in a game situation with someone that can throw with accuracy and speed.”
In the end, Helmick believes Cascade’s success this season depends upon a few things and he hopes the girls can pull together for another great year.
“Getting along, hitting, fielding, believing in one another, playing the game as a team for themselves, and just playing the game to the best of their ability,” he said.
An experienced nucleus returns for the Danville softball team in 2013.
Last year, the Warriors went 10-18 and made it to the 2012 sectional championship game. This year’s team believes it can build off of last season and hopes to be at least .500 and compete for a sectional title.
“We’ve added more speed to the team this season,” second-year Danville coach Jennifer Chasteen said. “Our hitting has really picked up and we’re more experienced on the field.”
Danville lost only three seniors last year and Chasteen said she believes the core returning will continue to improve.
“I’m already seeing growth from last season,” she said. “We’re able to focus on making the next play instead of only focusing on the first out. We were able to put a lot of underclassmen out on the field last year, and the experience that they gained is making a huge difference already in practice. I feel like I have a whole team of leaders and coaches out there on the field.”
Junior Delaney Stephens was first-team all-Sagamore Conference last year after registering 26 RBI, a .557 batting average, 20 stolen bases, seven doubles, and two home runs.
“Stephens is a huge threat on the left side as she’s able to keep the defense off balance with slapping and hitting,” Chasteen said. “Stephens is very intimidating in the box, and will help us set the tone for the game with her hitting.”
Senior Kaitlyn Williamson provided a solid bat for the Warriors last year as she went .396 from the plate and added 18 stolen bases, 20 RBI, and two home runs. She signed with Marian University to continue her softball career this fall.
“Williamson batted cleanup for us last year and she was able to come through with some big hits when we really needed them,” Chasteen said. “She is definitely a game changer when she’s in the box.”
Other key returners include pitchers Morgan Bear and Hannah Kelly.
“Both pitchers will have more experience and confidence going into this season,” Chasteen said.
Haleigh Kelly and Adrianne Glaser are also expected to be main contributors this season. Freshman Bella Truran is expected to contribute immediately in the outfield for Danville.
The Warriors are balanced well with four freshmen, four sophomores, four juniors, and three seniors.
Coming off her first year of coaching at Danville, Chasteen believes last year’s experience will help this season.
“I learned about the other teams that we play in our schedule,” she said. “I’ve learned what their strengths and weaknesses are and how we need to play against them this season. I feel like this will help me the most as we enter this upcoming season.”
Chasteen has connected well with her team and is excited for the season ahead.
“I’m extremely proud of the girls and how far they’ve come over the last year,” she said. “They’re truly an inspiration to me and all of the young girls in Danville hoping to one day play high school ball. They’re paving the way one game at a time.”
Tri-West’s softball team features eight returning starters from a squad that went 17-11 and won its sectional last season.
The outlook for 2013 is highly positive considering last season’s success and returning athletes.
“This year can only get better with all the experience and dedication with this group of girls,” Tri-West coach Stacey Rogers said. “They continue to surprise me every day with their willingness to work hard and their love for the game of softball.”
After starting the first six games on junior varsity for the Bruins before making the jump to varsity last year, sophomore Claire Johnson looks to lead Tri-West after a superb freshman season.
Johnson led the team with a .484 batting average and four home runs. The first-team all-Sagamore Conference selection also added 21 RBI and 17 stolen bases.
“Claire is the most dedicated softball player I’ve seen in a long time,” Rogers said. “She brings that level of dedication and experience to our team. Claire plays softball year round and has even spent a few Friday nights in the batting cages at TWHS. Claire continues to improve and I look forward to what she has to show us throughout this season.”
The Bruins have seven returning starters in seniors Kaitlyn Settlemoir, Alyssa Clark, Taylor Heath, Kari Sellers, Heather Chastain, and Taylor Baggett. Sophomore pitcher Lacy Meyer also returns for a solid, experienced core for Tri-West in 2013.
“We’re lucky this season with the high level of experience that we have and at this time we’ll be counting on mostly returners and a few newcomers to contribute to this season,” Rogers said.
She said the Bruins will look to build off of last year’s postseason’s success.
“Last year’s sectional games were close, tough games and we managed to come out on top,” Rogers said. “If anything else, making a regional appearance gives them experience and confidence and, most importantly, motivation to continue further in the tournament this year.”
After graduating eight seniors from last season, the Brownsburg softball team will be looking to help replace those cleats, and experience, in 2013. But replacing that leadership from a squad that went 16-13 will not be an easy task.
“Our juniors and seniors this year have already stepped up and taken ownership of the team,” Brownsburg coach Alyssa Huffman said. “In addition to leadership, they also have a great skill set. Plus, they are not just softball players, they are athletes. And when we combine that with some very talented and athletic underclassmen, we should be able to take our defensive skills to the next level and keep our program moving in the right direction.”
Bringing back both pitchers — seniors Kayle Comer and Rachel Fiscus — is a positive heading into the season.
“When they’re on, they’re consistent and keep us in ballgames by allowing few big hits and keeping runners off the bases by striking out a few hitters and walking almost none,” Huffman said. “That’s exactly what we need from them.”
The team is also more balanced this season with four seniors, three juniors, three sophomores, and two freshmen.
“We have a good mix of reliable veteran players and young talent,” Huffman said. “If we can bring out the skills, leadership, and energy from both groups and form a cohesive unit, we should be set up to have a successful season.”
Returning Bulldogs looking to help lead the way this season include Carlie Weaver and Jessica Blystone.
“We also have a couple of key offensive players returning and we’ll be needing their bats to lead the way each game, especially as the younger girls adjust to the higher level of competition,” Huffman said.
Expecting to make a new impact this season are sophomores Gabrielle Hall, Kelsey Reinhardt, and Lindsey Stahl and freshmen Ally Carver and Taylor Mendenhall.
“We have several new sophomores and a couple of freshmen who bring great defensive talent and definite offensive potential to our lineups,” Huffman said. “We’re depending on them to contribute from the start and we’ll be asking them to be key players from the get-go.”
Performance in a tough Hoosier Crossroads Conference, county tournament and sectional is tough to gauge at this point, but the potential is there.
“As with most teams, it will depend on how well all facets of our game are functioning together at the same time,” Huffman said. “If we can get our pitching, defense, and offense all meeting their potential simultaneously, we should be able to do well in each of those competitions.”
After coming off of a state championship run where the Orioles finished as runners-up in 2011, Avon followed that with high expectations. However, Marion County champion Perry Meridian bounced them from the postseason last year.
It was a hard loss for the talented Orioles who finished 19-4 and as Hoosier Crossroads Conference champions for the first time in school history.
“I think we were very disappointed in last year’s loss,” Avon coach Jenny Shayotovich said. “I hope it motivated our upper classmen and we will respond.”
Avon will have to do so without two of its top players from last season in pitcher Haleigh Chasteen, offensive and defensive powerhouse Alli Bexell, and others who played significant roles. According to Shayotovich, it’s about reloading and not rebuilding for the Orioles and it starts with the upperclassmen but does not end there.
“I think we have players who are in a position and have the ability to step up and continue the Avon softball tradition,” she said. “Our senior leadership and talent will work to fill the voids left by the talent that graduated. They’re a tremendous group of girls who want to lead by example and have earned respect rather than demanded it.
“Some younger players will have to step up and show that they are ready to continue the Oriole way and have an impact on our success.”
Where the Orioles are weakest is in the outfield, but they have a host of players up to the challenge of compensating during the transition of breaking in new players.
Senior Lizzy Snodgrass will assume pitching duties for Avon, along with junior Alex Anderson backing her up. Mac Johnston and Olivia O’Brien take on catching responsibilities for the pair of pitchers.
Shayotovich pointed to seniors Sadie Foster and Taylar Kelso to lead and “display to our team what hard-nosed softball players look like each day in practice.”
Also returning with experience for the Orioles and ready to contribute more heavily are juniors Kaitlyn Dwenger, Cassidy Larkin, Hannah Reeser, and Savannah Sarkine. All of those players add “solid offensive and defensive skills to add to the attack.”
While a strong group is ahead of them, Shayotovich is excited about the talent her underclassmen bring to the field.
“The future of Avon softball is bright as this team will look for contributions from freshman and sophomores Brittany Whiteside, Hannah Goddard, and Rachel Black as they all bring youthful talent to our team,” she said. “We’ll rely on these young, very promising players to gain experience while making an immediate impact on our success.”