DANVILLE — A state championship is a heavy burden to carry into a new season with a new mix of players — especially when all of your opponents have your team circled on their schedule.
Danville softball coach Mike Beheler brings back a strong group in 2009, but still has a few gaps to fill. For the Blue Devils, it’s like starting all over again.
“Literally, that’s how we’re taking it,” said Beheler, whose team had its first scrimmage Thursday night. “It’s a new season with new girls. Of course, we’ve got the returning ones but we’ve got some new ones, too. It’s a whole new, different chemistry and they are going to have to figure it out.”
Aside from the loss of starting pitcher Baihley Presley (53 innings pitched, 6-2 record, 2.11 era and .351 average in 2008) to graduation, the Devils will have to replace clutch-hitting leftfielder Kaleigh Hughes.
The Blue Devils have revamped the right side of their infield. With both 1B Kelsey Hammond and 2B Kelsey Durbin having graduated, Danville has lost a pair of key defensive players who did everything that was asked of them on offense.
“They put the ball in play — especially around tournament time,” said Beheler. “That’s what it takes. You have to put the ball in play and put pressure on the defense and that’s what they ended up doing.”
Beheler’s task in the spring is to help this year’s team find its own identity and unique winning formula. That’s a tough job in a normal year. This year’s squad will have to do it in the shadow of a championship banner.
“It’s going to take a little while,” admitted Beheler. “If people are expecting us to jump right out there and be this awesome state championship team, I can’t guarantee that. It will take time to figure that out. This has never happened before, so I do not know how the girls are going to react. No (Danville) team has ever done this before. ‘How do you defend?’ Well, I don’t know. Do you come into this season and say, ‘It’s acceptable to go backwards,’ and we start from there? Do you start from where you were at the end of the year and expect it to be that and get better from there? This year we have to go out and defend and there’s a target on your back. You’re not going to come out of nowhere, now.”
As Beheler and the Blue Devils struggle with these questions, co-captains Hannah Matheny (.431), who is expected to be the ace starter, and SS Tracy Payne (.367) will provide the needed leadership.
“They are true leaders,” said Beheler. “They set by example and they do have a lot of experience. Right down to the jayvees, people really look up to the two of them. Plus, they have bats, too.”
Another question will be how the roles of pitchers Jennifer Mickley and Morgan Lauderbaugh will be defined.
“We need a good No. 2 right now,” said Beheler. “Maybe one of them will even be a No. 1, eventually. Right now, Hannah is the No. 1 pitcher. It would be nice if one of them could step up and be the No. 1, because when Hannah is in the outfield, we are very strong out there.”
“Chemistry is key,” said Beheler. “They have to get along and I can give you 100 percent assurance that we have true chemistry. They’ve already figured that part out. Now, it’s all up to whether we are good enough as players.”
They’ll have an answer to that one in a hurry when they start facing off with the other teams in the Mid-Buckeye Conference. In 2008, the Blue Devils only managed to finish third in the MBC standings behind Johnstown and Loudonville, which each beat them two times last year. There is no room to coast in the MBC.
“Even Fredericktown, who didn’t have the best record, played us as tough as anybody in our league,” said Beheler.
“They (the MBC teams) will get us ready for that tournament,” said Beheler. “Just trying to win the league is hard enough as it is. On any given day any team in our league can beat us or we can beat them. Our league is so strong from top to bottom.”
Another team that is looking to unseat the Blue Devils is their archrivals, the East Knox Bulldogs, who are long on experience.
Catcher Olivia Williams (.345) leads a defensive-minded Bulldogs team with solid pitching that will not beat themselves. Molly Grosscup (.324) and Amber Henneke (.371) are also back.
Newcomer Sonya Dulaney, a sophomore, looks like she will get a starting spot in the outfield. The third base duties will likely be turned over to freshman Hayley Gray.
“It depends on our offense,” said Bulldogs coach Ron Looney. “We have one senior pitcher (Ariell Moxley, 2.33 era) and two sophomore pitchers (Morgan McVay, 2.33 era, and Tessa Simmons, 3.62 era) so we will see how far they take us.”
With a little help, the Freddies may be ready to emerge as a force to reckon with in the MBC.
Having only lost Kristan Robbins (.438) to last year’s graduation, the Freddies bring back plenty of experience.
First baseman Taylor Keener (.403) surprised a lot of people as a freshman. Along with her will be CF Ashley Miller and SS Brittany Fry. Starting pitcher Danielle Goeppinger (.347) and C Shannon Bywater are the main battery for Fredericktown. Others like LF Kaitlyn Pappas will need to step up to make the Freddies a winner in 2009.
“We’re going to be experienced,” said Fredericktown coach Jeff Keener. “But we are still going to be young. My only worry is to get my kids some valuable experience, put them in some clutch situations and, hopefully, they come out positive and we can continue to get better.”
Defensively, the Freddies will rely on their experienced infield and good fundamentals.
“As long as we can keep the ball in the dirt,” said Coach Keener. “We had a scrimmage Tuesday night and the ball got to the fence and we hit the cutoff man and got the runner by two steps. That’s just one of the little, basic things that needs to be done. I was pretty proud that sunk in. It’s fundamentals that will help you get the Ws.”
The Utica Redskins will feature a brand new outfield this year including Kimberley Wyscarver, Aubrey Mendez, Aubrey Rodeniser and Erin Rodgers.
Ace pitcher Tamara Londot will have Abbie Corbett back behind the plate and most of last year’s infield behind her. Amy Millat at first, 2B Mary Howard and SS Bridget Davis will be joined by newcomer 3B Charley Rodgers.