A year ago not even the most positive thinking Jonathan Alder High School softball fans would have picked the Lady Pioneers to have their season end at the Division II state tournament in Akron. But that’s exactly where the team’s unexpected ride ended a year ago.
With six starters back in the lineup, including the team’s top arm inside the pitching circle, a power hitting standout at first base and a do-everything shortstop, expectation levels are again high, but coach Dave McGrew warns that his team has plenty of areas it needs to improve in order to repeat a run deep into the postseason.
“I really like this team, I really like what we have coming back from last year,” McGrew said. “But we lost two or three of our anchors from last year. There are some pretty big voids to fill. We had a number of girls really grow from the beginning of last year to the end. We’re going to need more of that this time around.”
Alder finished last year 22-5 losing to eventual state champion Hebron Lakewood 14-6 in the state semifinal. If getting back to the state tournament is the goal then the Pioneers coaches will have to get continued production from what could be called their ‘Big Three.’
Senior pitcher Katelyn Perkins should be one of the best pitchers in Central Ohio this season. She has all the physical tools to be dominant and has really stepped up the mental part of the game. When she’s on she gives Alder a legitimate chance at beating anybody in the state.
“KP has a purpose this year,” McGrew said. “She had a great year last year. She’s mixing speeds better and has really been focused this spring. She’s looked really good. For us it all starts inside the circle.”
The team also welcomes the return of sophomore standouts Emily Walker, a slick-fielding shortstop, and Jillian Jakse a power-hitting first baseman. The two of them along with Perkins give Alder as good of a trio of players as anyone around.
“I know we’re in pretty good shape with those three,” McGrew said. “Emily is the leader on the infield, she will lead by example. When it comes down to it she just wants to win and will do whatever it takes to win.
“Jillian is one of those kids who does everything the right way. She and Emily are hitting the cover off the ball right now.”
Also on the roster this spring are outfielder Sophia Thomas, a speedy senior who played as a sophomore but not last season. Sophomores Angela Brandel (second base), Cierra Clark (outfield) and Lindsey Potter (outfield) all were starters last year and will be counted on to do more this season.
Alder graduated All-Ohio catcher Kayla Fredendall and standout third baseman Chloe Grove off of last year’s team. Their offensive production will be missed, but so will the leadership qualities they brought on a daily basis.
“It’s a different year and there are going to be different roles, but I really like our pieces,” McGrew said.
Also on the roster are sophomore catcher Caitlin Craig, junior pitcher Erin Jackson, sophomore outfielder Kelsey McDonald, Rachel Dembeck, April Wagner, Rachael Kaeser and Allison Caldwell.
The Pioneers will play their first spring in the Central Buckeye Conference, a league with a number of strong softball squads.
“The new league schedule is tougher, the back-to-back league games against the same team is odd for us,” the coach said. “With Kenton Ridge and (Springfield) Shawnee that’s four league games right there against state-ranked caliber teams. Our crossover games against (St. Paris) Graham and (Springfield) Northwestern are also games against really good teams.
“From top to bottom it’s going to be tough.”
Non-league games at the Wendy’s Invitational in Ashland as well as dates with Mount Vernon and Marysville will guarantee Alder is well-tested come tournament time.
“We know we’re going to get team’s best shots, we’ve got to be ready to play every game,” McGrew said.
Reach Chris Miles at 740-852-1616, ext. 1618 or via Twitter @MadPressSports.
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