First place in the Ohio Heritage Conference softball standings has been a private club for the past several years: Only West Liberty-Salem was admitted.
The Tigers took those conference titles and marched through tournament play to eight straight sectional and district titles and to the state final four three out of four years. They planned on another state run last year with Becka Peterson and Alyssa Neff on the mound. But they were stunned in the sectional final by 12-16 Versailles, and it might have signaled the end of an era.
Peterson and Neff are gone and the Tigers have already lost in conference play, but new coach Dennis McIntosh isn’t giving up.
“We’ve still got five starters back from last year and they want to have a successful season,” McIntosh said.
Three other teams have the ability to join the first-place club: Triad, Southeastern and Northeastern.
Triad and Southeastern played in the regionals last year. Northeastern lost in the first round of sectionals to that same hot Versailles team that derailed WLS.
“We’re right in the middle of it as anyone else can be,” Southeastern coach Randy Delaney said. “It’s the first time we’ve had a legit shot at competing for it.”
Delaney, who has coached the Trojans for 26 years, lost one starter to graduation. He has junior pitcher Becca Carpenter back and a corps of good hitters led by senior Cora Carpenter, junior Emily Myers and senior Carly Sullivan.
“They understand that there’s an opportunity that it’s more open than any of them’s ever had a chance at being a part of it,” Delaney said.
Triad is counting on pitchers Hannah Watkins and Dayna Ober, and coach Shari Dixon said the team needs to hit at or near the .347 mark they did last year.
Northeastern is leaning on freshman pitcher Kaitlyn Moore and first baseman Ashlen Lockwood and already has a victory over WLS.
McIntosh has three pitchers with varying degrees of youth and inexperience, but he is hopeful that his team will come together sooner than later.
“In a sense we are starting over in the pitching aspect of the game,” he said. “With our pitching situation right now, they’re more worried about what we can do in the league right now than they are about tournament time.”
Harting back for KR: Brittany Harting’s high school career had a promising start last year. She was a freshman playing center field and hitting .462 in the leadoff spot for Kenton Ridge. But in the 11th game of the season she broke her ankle when she stepped awkwardly on first base trying to beat out a grounder.
Harting’s high school season may have been over on April 12, but by the middle of June she was back on the field playing for her travel team. She played soccer in the fall. Now she is back as the Cougars’ leadoff hitter.
“I’m doing well with it and just glad to be back,” Harting said.
Harting is a versatile leadoff hitter. She can hit for power and she can use her speed to stretch a double into a triple or to bunt her way on base.
“They don’t know how to play her because she can do all of it,” Cougars coach Sarah Ivory said. “It’s nice to have her lead off.”
Most of the time Ivory allows Harting to swing away, and that’s fine with Harting. She is one of several good hitters on the team, and she admits to keeping track of her batting average.
“It definitely makes you push yourself to be better,” Harting said. “You always want to be competitive.”
Coaching carousel: Coaches come and go and some coaches come back. Dennis McIntosh was the head coach at West Liberty-Salem for 10 years. Then he gave way to Lanay Cordell for 10 years. But he couldn’t stay completely away and came back five years ago to be Cordell’s assistant. Now he is the head coach again.
Larry Spahr stepped down at Shawnee and left new coach Chris Roberts plenty to work with. The Braves are 5-1 behind the dominant pitching of junior Emily McKillip, who was second-team All-State last year.
John Purinton, an Urbana police officer, has taken over at Urbana for Kevin Gary. The Hillclimbers were 12-12 last year.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Emily Cale, Greenon: She is a fourth-year starter at catcher and infield and batted .415 last year.
Becca Carpenter, Southeastern: The junior pitcher struck out 191 last year and batted .314 with 22 RBIs.
Maddie Crew, Northwestern: The junior first baseman was first-team All-CBC last year while batting .434 with 23 RBIs and 16 stolen bases.
Jordan Hux, Mechanicsburg: The senior third baseman batted .466 last year and led the team in slugging percentage at .740.
Addie Kendall, West Liberty-Salem: The senior catcher batted over .300 last year, is the team leader and will handle an inexperienced pitching staff.
Ashlen Lockwood, Northeastern: The senior first baseman hit .444 last year with 31 RBIs.
Elysa Mathews, Kenton Ridge: The senior first baseman hit .476 with 13 extra-base hits and 23 RBIs. She was first-team All-CBC
Paige McCrary, Kenton Ridge: The senior third baseman hit .483 last year with 15 extra-base hits, including three home runs, 29 RBIs. She was first-team All-CBC and honorable mention All-State.
Emily McKillip, Shawnee: The junior pitcher won 18 games last year and had 195 strikeouts. She was second-team All-State and also batted .449.
Courtney Milliron, West Liberty-Salem: The senior shortstop/third baseman batted over .300 last year and hit six home runs.
Kristin Pencil, Northwestern: The junior center fielder was first-team All-CBC last year while batting .337 with 22 RBIs and 11 extra-base hits.
Miranda Roberts, Tecumseh: The senior pitcher/third baseman batted .381 last year with 13 RBIs.
Brooke Robinson, Greenon: The junior is a third-year starter at third base and catcher and batted .455 last year with two home runs.
Kristen Shank, Urbana: The senior pitcher took over that role in the middle of last season and went 9-6 with a 2.47 ERA to earn first-team All-CBC.
Jessica Wilson, Tecumseh: The freshman pitcher is off to a good start with a complete-game 3-1 victory.