Kenton Ridge softball coach Sarah Schalnat is uneasy about launching the season next week after having to cut back on practice because of frigid weather. Even though the Cougars have had indoor workouts, that’s hardly conducive to shagging flies or running the base paths.
But they’re better off than most teams. They return all nine starters, so Schalnat doesn’t have an extensive list of things she needs to cover.
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“Not being able to be outside — there’s only so much you can do in a gym,” she said. “You can’t really go over game-time situations. But it’s a positive to have everyone with experience. It kind of takes the pressure off a little bit to start the season.”
The Cougars, whose first game is Tuesday at Mechanicsburg, finished 20-5 last year after going 24-4, 23-4 27-3 and 31-3 the four years before that. They’ve won five straight Central Buckeye Conference Kenton Trail Division titles.
Another glimmering record and conference title seem within reach with senior star pitcher Carly Turner back along with a slew of talented position players.
Turner was the Kenton Trail Division player of the year after going 18-4 with a league-leading 0.65 ERA last season. She had 189 strikeouts in 141 innings and also bats cleanup, hitting .476 with five homers and 36 RBIs in 2017.
“She’s always in the weight room and doing a lot of lifting and hitting and pitching,” ,” Schalnat said. “She’s done a great job in the preseason and she’s coming into the season focused.”
Opponents beware: She likely will be even harder to hit.
“Carly has a good fastball and good placement with her pitches,” the coach said. “I really enjoy watching her command on the mound.”
Junior centerfielder Jordan Rucker hit .423 last season and made first-team all-league. Junior short stop Lexee Trainer, also a first-team pick, batted .384 with 30 RBIs.
The Cougars had four players who were second-team, All-CBC last year: senior catcher Peyton Fleming, who hit .413, sophomore right-fielder Maci Runkle (.378), sophomore third-baseman Jade Espinosa and junior left-fielder Madison Hall.
The other returning starters are second baseman Kaycee Sloan, first baseman Paige Williams and designated player Olivia Lee, who can also spell Turner on the mound. She had a 2-1 record with the second-best ERA in the conference at 0.67.
“I don’t see a spot in our lineup where I feel, ‘That’s an out,’ ” Schalnat said. “There’s been years in the past when I worried about maybe (the players hitting) six, seven or eight. But I feel we have a pretty strong lineup, and the kids can do anything I ask them to do, whether it’s to bunt or hit away. We have a very good lineup, one to nine.”
The Cougars have made some deep tourney runs under Schalnat, who is in her ninth year. They were Division II state runner-up in 2013 and district champs two years ago.
They lost in the sectional final last season, dropping a 5-4 decision to Shawnee, which went 23-7. And advancing in the tourney will get even harder since Northwestern, which reached the D-III state semifinals last season, has moved up to D-II and is joining that sectional.
But Schalnat divides the season into three parts — scrimmages, regular season and postseason — and doesn’t want her players to be preoccupied with what might happen in May.
“We definitely have a very tough sectional, she said, “but we try to reiterate to them about focusing on doing our best in each section of the season.”
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