Veteran Demons on cusp of SWC title run
By Ryan Kaczmarski
The Westlake High School varsity softball team is coming off a very successful 2013 campaign, in which it finished with an overall record of 18-11, and a league record of 10-4, which was only good enough for third place in the Southwestern Conference.
The Demons lost four starters from last year’s team, including All-Ohio player Jamie Screen, Waynesburg recruit Mackenzie Smith, Tri-C recruit Ciara Zale and Julia Porcella, but still have 10 returning letter winners to lead the program on a championship run.
The returning letter winners include seniors Erin Brown, Katlyn Nagel (captain) and Alex Tinline. Brown, who pitches and plays outfield, is coming off a junior season in ehich she batted .303, scored 18 runs and swiped 10 bases, while Nagel, who plays both middle infield positions, batted .324, and tallied 16 RBIs while earning an All-SWC honorable mention.
Six of the returners are juniors Gina Campo (outfield, 16 RBIs in 2013), Danielle Dill (outfield, .338 batting average and 13 runs scored in 2013), Caroline Hazapis (catcher/third base, captain), Rachel May (first base, second team All-SWC, All-District honorable mention, .404 batting average and 30 RBIs in 2013), Lainey McCue (third base, All-SWC honorable mention, .345 batting average, 18 RBIs in 2013) and Kylie Tinline (short stop, 20 runs scored, 8 stolen bases in 2013).
The lone returning sophomore letter winner is Katie Lew (pitcher/outfield), who was second team All-SWC as a freshman while pitching to a record of 8-7 with a 2.66 ERA and 117 strikeouts.
Other key players to watch this season will be juniors Kennedy Caja, Abby LaVecchia, Megan Rochford, Claire Turgeon and Grace Turgeon.
“Our strengths this season are a solid pitching staff and varsity experience throughout the team,” Westlake’s 13th-year head coach Tom Shiban said. “Keys to our success will be hard work, tough defense and timely hitting.”
English, veterans to bring North Olmsted into contention
By Ryan Kaczmarski
The North Olmsted High School varsity softball team would like to make last year’s 6-21 record a distant memory.
Third-year head coach John Wadas has 10 returning letter winners to anchor his squad, including senior middle infielder Erica English, who is a three-time All-Southwestern Conference selection and Wheeling Jesuit College recruit.
“Erica is a player to watch,” Wadas explained. “She is the best athlete I have coached defensively. She has a super-strong arm, great range and is extremely athletic.
“Offensively, she hit .467 as a sophomore and .495 as a junior.”
Along with English, Victoria Butler (outfield), Alexis Smith (outfield), Kylie Hicks (first base) and Julie Negray (outfield) will give the Eagles much-needed senior leadership both on the field and in the dugout. Juniors Kaitlyn Helderman (pitcher/outfield), Rebekah Groeden (catcher), Sarah LaRue (pitcher), Molly Moennich (catcher/third base) and Sarah Sabino (outfield) fill in veteran leadership at key positions.
Senior Hayley Bukala and sophomore Erin Connolly will both spend time at the second base and outfield positions.
“Our team strengths are our many returning varsity players, including a strong middle infield,” Wadas said. “One weakness might be many of our players are switching to new positions this season.
“We need our pitchers to have a good year, and make huge strides offensively for us to be successful,” he added. “We are hoping our team will come together now that most have a year of varsity under their belt.”
Avon Lake hopes young, versatile players will learn to win
By Joe Ostrica
Last year was a monumental one for the Avon Lake softball program. The Shoregals went 25-2 overall, including 13-1 in the Southwestern Conference. They won the SWC crown and advanced to the district finals. Unfortunately Avon Lake graduated nine seniors, including eight starters from that team.
Just two returning letter winners are back for the Shoregals, including senior Emily Young (first and third base) and junior Ali Balthaser (shortstop).
“The strength of the team this year is we have many players that are very versatile, so if someone is struggling there is someone that can step right in,” Avon Lake head coach Buzz Mullen said.
“Defense will play a big key in how we succeed on the field. We must take care of the ball.”
Young, Balthaser and senior Marisa Reynolds will serve as team captains. “Emily Young will start at third,” Mullen said. “She is very hard worker, so she will push the younger team to do the same. Ali Balthaser is moving from left field to shortstop this year. She has good footwork and will go after everything hit in her area. She’s also a leader on the field.”
Mullen expects Brecksville, Westlake and Amherst to be the top teams to beat in league action.
“They all have solid pitching and defense,” Mullen said. “SWC games are all good teams, so we seem to beat up on each other all season.”
Mullen said the team’s goals are to play solid defense to give them a chance to pick up some wins.
“If we play good defense and push across a couple of runs each game, we’ll see if we come out on top,” he said. “The postseason is always tough. We are in a very tough district, so you have to play your best ball or your season will be over quick.
“We are young and it will be a learning process. We’ll have girls moving every where until we find what works best.”
Pitching and youth make Bulldogs a SWC prospect
By Ryan Kaczmarski
The Olmsted Falls High School varsity softball team is ready to turn the corner and become a real force in the Southwestern Conference.
The Bulldogs return five letter winners from last year’s team that finished 12-13 (fourth in the SWC) and beat Magnificat 7-3 in the sectional tournament.
“Sophomore pitcher Mallory Taylor was 8-5 last year as a freshman,” Olmsted Falls head coach Jim Smith said. “Senior second baseman Nicole Fletterick batted .374 with a .582 slugging percentage. She led the team with 21 RBIs.
“Juniors Jordan Jaeckin (left field) and Kristina Mancini (center field) batted .256 and .350 last year, respectively.”
Catcher Sammie Fagan was lost for much of the year to injury last season, but she is healthy this year and should be behind the plate for the duration.
Key newcomers to keep an eye on are senior Meredith LeBlanc; junior Colleen Prokop; sopomores Katie Owens, Sara Hathcock, Chelsea Impala and Kayla Geraci; and freshman Lauren Bell, who pitches and could crack the starting lineup as a short stop.
“We are young, but will be competitive if we stay healthy,” Smith explained. “Our pitching should keep the scores close.”
Some key games on this year’s schedule will be double-headers against North Ridgeville, Avon, Parma and Strongsville, along with single games against Solon, Twinsburg, Clearview, Barberton and Cuyahoga Heights.
“As always, the SWC will be a strong conference, being led by Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Berea-Midpark, Westlake, Amherst, North Olmsted and Avon Lake,” Smith concluded.