DAILY JOURNAL SPORTS CORRESPONDENT
All but two of Johnson County’s high school softball programs feature new head coaches this season.
While that might signal starting over for many teams, local squads return enough talent on the field to help offset the leadership transition in the dugout.
Center Grove’s Russ Milligan and Indian Creek’s Gary Mitchell represent the county’s lone returning varsity head coaches. At Greenwood, Greg Norwood will serve as interim coach while Stephanie Senac is on maternity leave.
Story continues below gallery
Franklin, Whiteland, Edinburgh and Greenwood Christian Academy all have new head coaches. Despite that, nearly every program remains enthusiastic about its prospects this season, thanks in large part to the returning talent. In some cases, newcomers to their teams infuse even more positive vibes.
Here’s a look at the county’s teams this season.
The Trojans rallied from a 1-5 start to finish 20-8 last season and won the Metropolitan Conference title. They return all but one starter, Sarah Thompson, leaving Milligan optimistic about this season’s prospects.
“We’re familiar with each other, and all of the key pieces are back in play,” Milligan said. “We have state championship dreams and aspirations. There’s no other reason to play.”
Center Grove returns All-MIC performers Abbey Pratt (senior pitcher, 11-5, 1.76 ERA, 115 strikeouts), Mandy Dallas (senior second baseman, .372 batting average, team-high 28 RBIs) and Courtney Moriarty (senior right fielder, .346 batting average).
Other returning starters include sophomore left fielder Maddie Keeley; junior shortstop Delainey Turner (team-best .443 average and 11 stolen bases); senior third baseman Victoria Boyer (.349); senior first baseman Mallory Baker (.378); junior catcher Maddie London (.292); and junior pitcher Taylor Hammill (7-2, 3.19 ERA).
“Offense is still kind of an unknown,” Milligan said. “We have some good offensive players, but we weren’t incredibly strong as a group last year. We’ve remembered the mistakes we made last year and taken them to heart.”
First-year coach Steve Clark inherits a squad that advanced to last year’s Class A sectional championship game before losing to Hauser. The roster has lots of experience and adds some new talent for 2015.
“Ultimately, we’d like to get through sectionals,” Clark said. “That’s our top goal, and we’d like to be competitive in every other game.”
The Lancers return several key pieces, including seniors Courtney Woodall (second base/shortstop), Mariah Brown (outfield), Marah Piercefield (outfield) and Kelsy Burton (third base/outfield); juniors Kayli Littiken (third base/first base) and Kayla Beyer (third base/first base); along with sophomores Bri Howard (second base/shortstop) and Bailey Woodall (pitcher/center field).
With freshmen Vanessa McManaway (picher/second base), Makenzie Hill (catcher/second base) and Madisyn Clark (pitcher/outfield) added to the mix, Clark said he believes the Lancers will be deep and balanced, although he expects Bailey Woodall, one his two top pitchers (Madisyn Clark is the other) to miss time until late April with a broken hand.
“Pitching is going to be a committee deal to start the season,” Clark said. “We’ve focused on doing a lot of hitting, and I’ve seen a lot of progress. Once we have our pitchers healthy, they’ll complement each other well, and we’re pretty solid defensively.”
The defending Class 4A sectional champion Grizzly Cubs lost their coach and three senior starters, but first-year coach Lisa Whitlow-Hill said she believes the returning talent and a couple of key newcomers will keep the program strong.
“Our offense should be pretty strong up and down the lineup,” Whitlow-Hill said. “We have one really strong pitcher (freshman Rilee King), but we’ve only got three pitchers between our varsity and JV.
“It would be nice to have a few more.”
Whitlow-Hill said King is going to be an NCAA Division I player, and “she’s going to be one of our top hitters right away.” King will complement a lineup that will include juniors Whitney Shapp (shortstop), Baleigh Potter (catcher) and Shelby Taylor (center field). Another freshman, Sydney Logsdon, figures to split time between first base and outfield.
“We’ve got three or four new people in different positions, and we’ve got to learn how to work with each other and complement each other,” Whitlow-Hill said.
The two-time defending county champs and three-time defending Mid-State Conference champs graduated six seniors, five of whom play at the collegiate level. Those seniors helped the Woodmen produce a 67-13 record during the past three seasons.
In the meantime, they also return enough talent that Norwood said he believes the Woodmen will be strong again.
“This will be a year of growth, but we’ve got a lot of talent in every age group,” said Norwood, who’s been an assistant coach with the program for seven years. “We’ve been senior-heavy in the past, but not so much this year.
“Pitching will be our strong point again.”
Junior Megan Overton, who’s committed to Boston College, has gone 19-1 during the past two seasons with 192 strikeouts and will anchor Greenwood’s staff.
Fellow junior Paige Wilson will pitch when Overton doesn’t.
Seniors Nataley Roker (catcher), Joslyn Levertt (outfield/shortstop), Dani Speas (outfeild), Emily Ott (outfield) and Sam Burkhead (utility) return, along with sophomore Ryan Bauer (second base).
The Cougars will go into their second full varsity season on the heels of an 8-4 record. Coach Dan Carmichael returns four key players and some additions to build upon that finish.
“This year, we have a lot of depth where last year we did not,” Carmichael said. “Last year, we only had one pitcher. This year, we have a lot of options in our lineup.”
Greenwood Christian returns juniors Isabella Roby (pitcher) and Bri Lawrence (infield/oufield), along with sophomores Tara Pennycuff (third base) and Abby Miller (shortstop).
Top newcomers include sophomore Faith Shilkett (second base) and freshmen Bethany Daily (pitcher) and Grace Apgar (catcher/infield).
Eighth-year coach Gary Mitchell and the Braves lost shortstop Jessica Knight, a walk-on with Butler, to graduation but return most of the talent from last year’s Mid-Hoosier Conference champion squad.
“If we hit the ball like I think we can, I think we can compete with anybody,” Mitchell said. “The challenge will be hoping last year’s freshmen come back with confidence and hone their skills.”
The Braves return, among others, seniors Cheyenne Moneymaker (outfield), Kaylee Satter (second base), Michaela Smith (catcher), Hannah Fields (utility) and Casey Willhoite (outfield); juniors Sidney Williams (outfield, leading hitter) and Zoey Gatton (outfield); and sophomores Dori Knight (pitcher/infield), Brittany Dugan (pitcher/infield), Macy Ashley (pitcher/infield) and Morgan Palmer (third base).
Freshman pitcher Rachel Kyle joins sophomores Kendra Satter, Sarah Knight and Jesse Button as newcomers who Mitchell expects to contribute.
“I think our pitching staff is very steady,” Mitchell said. “They continue to work on their game, playing travel ball and seeing pitching coaches. These kids play softball year-round.”
Katie Mitchell is the Warriors’ head coach for the first time, but she was an assistant the two previous seasons, and Whiteland returns seven players with significant varsity experience.
“Our entire coaching staff worked together last year, which made the transition seamless,” Mitchell said of Whiteland, which finished 12-15 overall and 5-7 in Mid-State Conference play.
The Warriors return seniors Andi Stewart (second base), Monica Collins (center field) and Lauren Prohl (pitcher), along with juniors Danielle Munn (pitcher), Skye Scott (catcher), Hannah Upchurch (left field) and Sarah Shipe (third base).
Mitchell also expects contributions from senior Lexi Miller (first base/outfield) and sophomores Melanie Stuk (shortstop) and Katie Parrish (first base) and freshmen Karlee Denham (right field) and Madison Margraf (outfield/catcher).
“One of our greatest strengths is our defense,” Mitchell said. “We will continue to work on the mental aspect of the game and pressure situations.”