MOUNT VERNON — The Mount Vernon softball team has a huge hole to fill in the middle of the diamond. But, with seven returning letterwinners from last year’s district qualifying team, coach Carisa Lanning thinks the Yellow Jackets have what it takes to overcome the big loss.
All-Ohio pitcher Kylee Marcum is gone from last year’s 18-7 team that made it to the Division I district semifinals.
“The big thing from last year is we lost all-state pitcher Kylee Marcum. She’s been our ace the past couple of years and she’s also been one of our biggest hitters,” said Lanning.
The Yellow Jackets will look to junior Brittany Roden to fill that void on the mound. After a solid year in jayvee, she’s ready to take the next step.
“Brittany’s young, but we’ve got confidence in her,” Lanning said. “She’s been working with (pitching coach) Mike Marcum on a lot of different pitches. She’s got the talent and the ability. It’s whether she steps up and produces. I’m confident she’ll do just that.”
There will be plenty of veteran talent behind Roden this year. The Jackets return three seniors — infielder Olivia Starmer and outfielders Courtney Clark and Ashton Bogo — who will be counted on for veteran leadership.
Also returning are juniors Kate Reynolds (center field) and Abby Lyons (catcher), as well as sophomore Jess Wellman (first and third base).
The Jackets will also look to several others stepping up from the junior varsity squad. Juniors Keli Thompson (outfield/second base), Maggie Hale (infielder) and Kristen Bender (infielder/outfielder) will be counted on to make the jump. Senior outfielders Morgan Dufur and Katheryn Derr will also be counted on.
“We’ve got some big bats with Jess and Maggie, but we’ve also got some speed,” Lanning said. “I’ve always been a small-ball coach. Our three and four hitters, if we need someone to move someone around, they’ll bunt and better be able to lay it down. Because in softball, there are too many one-run games. It’s easy to get someone on, then advance them. Small ball is very important.”
Backing up Roden on the mound will be Wellman and Molly Chacey, who will see time on the junior varsity team early in the year. Lanning also expects freshman Alex Rutherford to see some time on the varsity squad before the year is over.
Lanning likes the staff that’s been put together for this year’s large amount of players. There are enough players to field two junior varsity teams and they even got the return of an all-star to help out. Kylee Marcum is playing at Ohio State-Newark and will volunteer her time with the junior varsity squad. She’s going to be helping Candace Merillat, who’s coaching the JV-A team. Courtney Rabold, who played her ball in Dublin, will coach the B squad.
Lanning has plenty of experience with her varsity staff. Lynn Apple and Mike Marcum return as assistants again this year. Apple has been with the program for nearly 30 years, while Marcum has been the pitching coach the past seven.
That experience and the experience of the players who made it to districts last year has Lanning believing in her team’s chances in the Ohio Capital Conference. She expects Hilliard Bradley, behind OCC Player of the Year Kellie Roudabush, to be the elite team this year, but isn’t counting out her Jackets.
“Hopefully, we’ll be in the top half. Our goal is, always, to win, but we’ll take a goal of the top three right now,” Lanning said. “But, if we put it together and get our bats going, we could surprise some people.
“Hopefully, getting a taste of playing far in the tournament will make them even hungrier. Hopefully, they will pass it on to the new girls and we’ll keep working hard to taste it again. It’ll take a lot of heart, commitment and hunger for them to get there, but I have the confidence in them. They just need to have confidence in themselves — that they can do it.”
The Yellow Jackets open play today at 5:15 p.m at Bishop Watterson.