SYRACUSE — Wawasee were so close, they could taste it. But the bitter taste left after falling to Lakeland, 2-0, in the Fairfield Sectional championship game has lingered all winter.
The Lady Warrior softball program are looking to bounce back this season with a lot of familiar faces led by a first-year head coach Hans Griepentrog, who moved from the JV position to head coach after Cory Schutz resigned last spring.
Griepentrog will have a lot of ammunition left over from a team that won 16 games last season, including All-Northern Lakes Conference first baseman Madi Anderson and Honorable Mention All-NLC pitcher/utility player Kylie Norris.
Norris, a senior, will have to fill the shoes of graduated Gabi Routson, who was a four-year starter in the pitching circle. Norris is just 5-6 in her career, but has struck out 59 batters in just 73.1 innings of work. Alli Ousley will also find time in the circle, but is coming off an injury that may limit her innings and keep her at shortstop.
Anderson, also a senior, had a huge 2012 season, batting .430 with an on-base percentage of .509. Anderson drove in 23 runs and scored 18 herself. Norris adds speed in front of Anderson, having a .382 batting average with 11 stolen bases and 17 runs scored.
The young Wawasee returning core have just two other seniors and two juniors among the 10 that returned from the sectional roster last spring. Seniors Taylor Spangle and Victoria Warren have six years of combined varsity service and juniors Stacie Carr and Ashlynn Fisher have both been on varsity since their freshman seasons.
An experienced group of sophomores, led by Paige Hlutke, Aly Anderson and Priscilla Weikart, all were active in the sectional last season. Weikart brings the biggest bat, having cracked three homers and driven in 19 runs. Freshmen Allissa Flores and Kylee Rostochak could also play big roles as the season unfolds.
“Our goal is to just take it one game at a time,” Griepentrog said. “We will not play down to any opponents. Our pre-conference schedule is a lot like spring training for us since half our roster are freshmen and sophomores. Those games will give us a good chance to see how they all handle their roles. Up until the first week of the NLC season, we’ll utilize the players in a couple different ways to see what we have.”
Can Warsaw Reload?
The Warsaw program is dealing with some huge losses in the graduation of Kelsey Dotson and Kendra Marshall – both Indiana All-Stars – as well as school-record holder Cari O’Hara, who left with the most pitching wins in a single season after collecting 15 in 2012. Marshall and Dotson combined for 22 homers and 83 RBIs last season.
Catcher Dotson and shortstop Marshall both earned All-State honors in 2012 after leading the Tigers to a 19-10 overall mark, which included an 11-3 record in Northern Lakes Conference play. Dotson, now playing at IU, hit .554 with 12 homers and 37 RBI last season and finished her prep career third in state history with 35 homers. Marshall, now playing at Valparaiso University, batted .531 with 10 homers and 46 RBI in 2012.
Coach Jim Speicher’s group will be led by junior Kaleigh Speicher, who missed most of the 2012 season with a shoulder injury but was 12-4 with a 2.14 ERA as a freshman in the circle. Three-year starters Kara Dishman and Ashley Ousley will anchor the defense while Kayla Snider will move into the catcher’s role for the departed Dotson. Taylor Stiver will take over at shortstop for Marshall.
“We will have a blend of experience and newcomers,” said coach Speicher. “If we can hit the ball consistently and score some runs, we should be difficult to beat. Pitching should keep us in most of the games.”
Wildcats Hoping Speed Kills
Whitko are also dealing with some big-time graduation losses – including All-Three Rivers Conference members Karissa Olinske and Audra Day. Olinske shouldered almost 80 percent of the Wildcats’ innings last spring, so the challenge for Brad Clark’s team will be great.
Hoping to fill the vacancy are Aly Nicodemus and Hannah Cokl, of which Nicodemus pitched a portion of those innings not thrown by Olinske.
Hannah Himes will lead the bats, having paced the team in 2012 in RBIs. Clark feels his team is best suited for small-ball, with speedsters Maddie Gawthrop and Jenny Brown penciled into the top of the order.
“We feel very confident playing small-ball as we have been blessed with a lot of speed this season,” Clark said. “Brown missed most of last season with an injury, her return to the lineup should give the team a boost.”
Solid Nucleus For Trojans
Triton were runner-up in the South Central Sectional to the hosts after picking up two wins over Marquette and Westville to get to the final.
Coach Steve McBride hopes his team can get over the hump with the combined pitching efforts of Mallorie Jennings and Bryclyn Garbison. McBride lists his infield as catcher Allyson Brown, Lillie Berger at second, Brooke Roberts at third and Krystal Sellers at shortstop. A platoon of outfielders include Jenae Kreft, Hailey Zimmerman, Hannah Jennings, Lexee Lemler and Amanda Warrick.
Valley Looking For Leadership
Tippecanoe Valley would love to step forward in the Fairfield Sectional fray. Having its 2012 season ended in a run-rule, no-hit loss to Lakeland, the Lady Vikings are itching to prove it belongs.
The Vikings return just one senior in infielder Mariah Benzing, but have five juniors, six sophomores and five freshmen ready to prove themselves. Coach John Strong lists junior Kelsey Eckert and sophomore Kassidy Shepherd as his two pitchers to start the season.
Benzing returns as the 2012 Team MVP and led the club in both RBIs and batting average. Shepherd was the 2012 Gold Glove winner for Valley and led the pitching staff in earned run average.