At times this season, Kenton Ridge softball coach Sarah Schalnat has been worried about the pressure her underclassmen players have been under. It’s not just a couple of players, either. The Cougars lost five starters from last season’s 24-win team, including every infielder.
But the five new starters have blended seamlessly with the returnees, and the Cougars are as potent as ever.
Kenton Ridge (20-4) won the Central Buckeye Conference Kenton Trail Division for the fifth consecutive season and will face league rival Shawnee in a Division II sectional final Tuesday at Urbana’s Boyce Street Field.
“These kids have done just a great job of filling in the spots,” Schalnat said. “They listen, they’re very coachable and they have good hearts.”
Schalnat said she was worried the pressure of the tournament would get to the newcomers last Thursday in Kenton Ridge’s 5-0 win over Bellefontaine in a second-round sectional game, but she was pleased with her players’ clam performances.
“They weren’t as nervous as I thought they were going to be,” Schalnat said. “They did a really great job. We were only up 1-0 for a while, and they didn’t fret about it. They just kept working.”
Outfielders Maci Runkle and Madison Hall are among the underclassmen newcomers who have played well. Runkle, a freshman, is hitting .380 and is fourth on the team with 16 RBIs. Hall, a sophomore, is batting .296 and is one of seven starters with an on-base percentage better than .350.
Both have played well in the outfield as well. Runkle has had one fielding error, Hall none.
Solid fielding has been one of Cougars’ keys. They’ve had 22 errors, lowest of any CBC team.
“Any time you can limit your fielding mistakes and play good defense behind your pitcher, you’re going to be successful,” Schalnat said. “Typically we’ve had pretty good defense.”
Schalnat said the biggest reason for the team’s success is returning all-state pitcher Carly Turner, whose fastball has frustrated batters. She has an 0.52 ERA and 184 strikeouts, and she’s pitched 15 shutouts in 22 games.
“She’s been hitting her spots,” Schalnat said. “She’s had great command. She’s hitting the corners and really mixing it up well.”
Turner, a junior, also has the team’s best batting average (.474) and on-base percentage (.527) and leads the team with 36 RBIs.
Schalnat said Turner’s leadership in the dugout has been equally as important as her playing performance.
“She really encourages the girls,” Schalnat said. “She’s our four-hole hitter, and she always does a lot of coaching after she comes back from every at-bat. She comes in and says whether the pitcher is throwing outside or rise balls. She’s always trying to help the other kids get hits and be successful.”
Schalnat also credits two other players for helping lead the team: center fielder Jordan Rucker (.433 batting average) and catcher Peyton Fleming (.429).
The Cougars split a series with Shawnee, losing 2-1 on April 10 and winning the next night 11-0.
“We’re going to have to stay focused, because Shawnee is a great team,” Schalnat said.