New season, new teams — that’s the case for our local softball teams this season.
Shamokin, Lourdes Regional, Southern Columbia and Line Mountain all enter the 2019 campaign with one similar trait attached to their roster: youth.
Look for each team to improve over the course of this new season as the young players from each ball club learn how to adapt to the high school level and learn from the returning vets.
The Indians are coming off a deep district playoff run that ended just one victory away from bringing home the program’s first district championship. They return six starters from last year’s team, and will need some new faces to step up if they expect to be playing into late May again.
“We have some good leadership and a few girls with experience,” said head coach Rick Kashner. “But losing the girls we did last year made some huge holes on both offense and defense.”
Several key returners that will look to provide some of that leadership include Andrea Segura, Mackenzie Glosek and Chloe Kramer.
“I’m hoping they can carry the other girls and help them improve as the season progresses,” said Kashner.
Payton Whary will return for the Indians on the mound. She played a huge role in team’s playoff run a year ago and is expected to be in the middle circle for most of the games this season.
The Indians will also be strong up the middle and in the outfield defensively. Offensively, Kashner is looking for the top of their lineup to step up and contribute towards run production.
“We have our most experienced girls there, and I’m hoping they can carry the other girls and help them improve as the season progresses,” said Kashner.
As is the case with any young team, progressing throughout the season will be vital for the team.
“I just ask the girls to take something away everyday from a game or practice and to continue to improve,” Kashner said about what he wants from the team this year. “I don’t want them to be content or complacent with where they are as a player or person.
“As always the team goal would be to qualify for district playoffs, once you get there anything can happen,” added Kashner.
Lourdes Regional isn’t coming off a deep playoff run like Shamokin, but the young ball club will be looking to call on the players that gained valuable experience on the diamond last year to turn things around this season. OLOL returns six freshmen starters from last year, and is expecting a lot from this year’s freshmen class.
“We are hoping that our sophomore starters will use the valuable game experiences they gained last year to help them get to a better start this season,” said head coach Clay Funk. “This freshmen class will add some depth to our roster. We will still be a very young team with 10 of our 13 players being sophomores and freshmen.”
Returners from last year that are expected to be vital for the lineup this season include Payton Carl and Lauren Ayres. Emily Yuskoski also will return for the Red Raiders on the mound and be a leader for the team on the defensive end.
Inexperience on the defensive end played a role in some of the team’s losses last year. But, as is the case with any team in any sport, those type of lessons are usually growing pains for young teams that eventually become playoff contenders.
“We need to work on making the routine plays and getting out of the inning without allowing the other team to get additional at bats,” explained Funk. ”We gave up way too many unearned runs last year because of bad defense.”
This season, the Red Raiders are off to a tough start and are winless in their first three outings. Their matchups so far, which included games against North Schuylkill and Pine Grove, might be some of strongest teams OLOL will see all season.
“We need to win all our games that are winnable and try to be more competitive in the games that we are overmatched,” said Funk about what he expects out of his team this year.
The Tigers are expecting big things in the 2019 season as they return a lot of starters from last year’s roster. In addition, this year’s freshmen class included the first group of players from Southern Columbia’s new junior high program that began just two years ago — and head coach Jenn Rarig is excited to see how they adapt to the high school level.
“They already have two years of experience playing for our coaching style and learning the game,” said Rarig. “It’s a good opportunity for the program and I’m excited to see how the new feeder system will help our team.”
Key contributors to Southern’s 2019 squad include Avery Konyar, Madison Colella and Kate Waltman. While Konyar and Waltman will be in the circle most of the time for the Tigers, the players’ flexibility and willingness to play all over the field are going to be vital to the team’s success on the diamond.
“We have a lot of depth,” said Rarig. “A lot of our kids are utility players and can play anywhere on the field which makes us a strong defensive team. We’re a well-rounded team that focuses on the basics.”
The Tigers have already two wins in their new campaign, and the squad has already shown the offensive firepower the team is capable of. In their win against Columbia Montour Vo-Tech, Southern was able to put 24 runs on the scoreboard. While those numbers may not be expected in every contest, it may be a sign of what can be expected out of the Tigers in 2019.
“The girls have worked hard all offseason and are hungry this year,” said Rarig. “We’re just going to focus on one game at a time and preach the basics.”
The Eagles are off to the best start out of local teams and have high hopes as a team this year.
They are led by several returning seniors, including Katie Mace and Taylor Leshock. Other returners contributing to team’s early success include Kya Matter, Cheyenne Ebersole and Olivia Smeltz.
Kaely Walshaw and Mace highlight the team’s pitching rotation so far in 2019. The Eagles will look to lean on other returning players to carry the team defensively.
Despite returning a lot of key starters, the team is still young.
“We need game time,” said head coach Butch Fessler. “We still need to gain some experience, and I’m excited to see how the young players react to this level.”
Positivity can be contagious and detrimental to a team’s success at a high school level. Fessler noted that his team’s enthusiasm has played a major role in the team’s environment and has even been a strong point for the club this year.
The Eagles have already shown that they can edge out close games, already winning a game in extra innings against Juniata. In the eighth inning of the 4-4 ballgame, Line Mountain rallied to score three runs and put the game out of reach. Experience in these games — let alone winning them — can be a huge momentum swing for a team as the adolescence of the regular season approaches.
Line Mountain’s goal for the season is to qualify for the playoffs, and the hot start they are off to, thus far, may go a long way in determining that once crunch time rolls around.