Area softball teams feature new blood, new talent in 2012

As the softball season gets in full swing, Bremen will feature some new blood at head coach.
Mike Huppert is taking the reins of the program after a turn as a volunteer assistant. It’s been a few years since the Lady Lions have posted a winning record, and Huppert is hoping to change that. To help with the challenge he’s brought along some homegrown talent in pitching coach Jenni Andrews, who helped lead the team to a state runner-up finish in 2008, and hitting coach Tabby Teal, who led one of the original Lions squads at the plate for four years. Huppert is hoping they can pass on some of their past success to this year’s team.
“As a rookie head coach — I’ve been a volunteer assistant the past couple years — I’ve got a lot of confidence that we can win a lot of games. I’ve set some lofty goals for the girls as far as conference position and sectional position and that type of thing. I feel we can do those things and reach those goals if the girls buy into what we’re doing,” said Huppert.
“We’ve put together a real good coaching staff. We feel that the girls can have confidence in any of the coaches that we’ve got. We are all on the same page; we’ve had numerous meetings on what we want to do and what we want to accomplish and how we want to get there.”
Helping the Lions turn things around is a core of six seniors in four-year pitcher Saylor Bailey, second baseman Kalee Feldman, outfielders Katie Fraine, Allison Shorter and Bethany Grove as well as third baseman Shannon Jordan up from the JV last year. The team also boasts four juniors in first baseman Taylor Lashbrook, short stop Megan Stouder, relief pitcher/ utility player Mikayla Gardner and catcher Brooke Baker.
Bremen hit a snag in the early going, however, when Baker tore an ACL which will likely force her out the rest of the season, and the Lions have had to bring up a freshman, Rachel Czarniecki, behind the plate.
“Losing our starting catcher at the beginning of the year, when we lost her before the season started, we really had to scramble to go to plan B, which we didn’t have. Plan B was to work on somebody and bring somebody up,” said Huppert.
“The experience is there with Kailee Feldman there at second, Megan Stouder at short, even Allison Shorter and Bethany Grove in the outfield.
“The middle infield is definitely the strongest part of the defense right now. It’s just getting confidence with the new catcher as far as the pitching goes. As far as the team chemistry, I think we’re fine there. We’ve got a good group of seniors and juniors, and they’ve accepted the freshmen fine.”
Despite Bremen’s veteran roster, errors have been a hindrance to the team’s early success. But Huppert believes that with a little tweaking, his girls can shore up the problem.
“I would say we’re focusing on doing things the right way as far as defensive positioning and movements depending on what the situation is,” he said. “We’ve worked a lot on reducing the number of errors and the number of opportunities for the other team. That’s always been a bugaboo of Bremen, is giving up a lot of extra outs in a game, and sometimes those have been very costly.”
West of Bremen at John Glenn, the Lady Falcons also brings back a strong contingent from last season.
Glenn returns a pair of All-Northern State Conference Honorable Mention picks in senior catcher Amanda Bogard and sophomore centerfielder Ashley Dombeck. Ashley’s sister Nicole Dombeck returns at right field while fellow sophomores Sarah Kosinski and Koral Mendenhall are back in left and to play utility, respectively, while Carah Ochs returns to short, and junior classmate Stephanie Dreesen is back at first after sitting out with a knee injury last year. Adding to the mix are a pair of transfers in Clay senior transfer Kylie Blair at third, and Bremen transplant and sophomore pitcher Macy Jankowski.
But while the squad is more worlds more experienced than last year’s Falcons, head coach Jon Banks says they’re still young, and the key to their success this season may end up being a short memory.
“Last season we were pretty young. Over half our team was freshmen. We made some mistakes at key points of games,” he said.
“They’re young still. They’ll still make mistakes, but I’m looking forward to seeing them this year with the turnaround that they’ve had since last year. We make mistakes, but I’m hoping the girls can just kind of let them go and keep on playing.”
Even if Glenn does give up some extra outs in the field, Banks is hoping a speedy batting lineup can help offset any damage done on the defensive end.
“Our batting lineup’s looking pretty good. Our younger girls, they’re coming around,” he said. “Last year they were nervous about playing varsity, and I told them all you’ve got to do is center the ball. We’re going to look to Amanda (Bogard) to be our power hitter. Sarah Kosinski’s stepped up and is starting to get some hits in. We’re pretty much going to hopefully play the short game, just bunt a lot and try to move them around with our big sticks.”
On the other side of the coin in the South Bend St. Joseph’s field, Plymouth returns just five players with meaningful varsity experience.
The Lady Pilgrims roster features a pair of junior newcomers in third baseman/ pitcher Britney Horvath and utility player Darian Sarna to go with four sophomores in second baseman Sarah Iwinski, first baseman/ utility player Sommer McClellan, first baseman Sam Wojcik and utility player Haley Traski, as well as fellow utility player and freshman Bailey Brown.
Returning for Plymouth are three juniors in short stop Morgan O’Neal, center fielder Kailey Whitley and left fielder April Hampton and seniors Marissa Sullivan and Emilee Keilman are back at pitcher and catcher, respectively.
If you’re going to have veterans, your battery isn’t a bad place to start, however, and Sullivan and Keilman should also help give the Pilgrims a boost at the plate says head coach Ed Kelso.
“With Marissa and Emilee on the mound and behind the plate, those are four-year starters, they should be leading the way for us. They’re the only two seniors, and they need to lead the way for the rest of the kids,” he said.
“Marissa and Emilee should be leading the way with the hitting. April hit pretty decent for us last year. Kailey can and will. They’ve been hitting pretty well in practice, so we’ll get in the games and figure it out, whether we need to switch to small ball or do whatever we need to do to win. Obviously every year, hitting is a question for us coming in. We won’t know until we get it going.”
While run production has often been a problem area for Plymouth the past few seasons, defense may be a question mark for this year’s young squad as well. The good news is, with solid pitching already in place, it should help make the learning curve a little shorter.
“With Marissa pitching keeping us in every game we’re in, we just need to play solid defense behind her and make the routine plays. If people give us a chance to get an out on them, we’ve got to make sure we take advantage of that and get those outs,” said Kelso.
“If Britney (Horvath) gets on the mound, we’ll probably move Marissa to somewhere else, probably put her at third or wherever, so we’ve got to be ready to play defense behind her as well if we get into that situation. Pitching dominates and we’ve got a couple good ones so as long as we can play some defense behind them and score some runs, we should be alright.”
Defense has already been a problem for a young Argos team in the early going.
“Our biggest weakness this year is our defense. Our first game that we had the other night we had 11 errors,” said head coach Alyssa Duncan. “That’s going to be our biggest thing right now. Since I did lose some seniors last year I had to fill in some spots, and the girls are just getting used to those positions.
“The main focus that we’ve talked about a lot lately is just being able to communicate. Since some of our players are in positions that they normally wouldn’t play in, I need everybody talking so they know where they’re supposed to go at what point in time.”
The team returns a trio of seniors in infielder Karalei Kring, center fielder Keri Bair and first baseman Zani Fishburn and three juniors in pitcher/ infielder Allison Flower, outfielder Abby Cohagan and second baseman Kaytlyn Johnson. Joining the mix is a deep sophomore class featuring catcher Raelynn LaFrance, utility player/ pitcher Charlie Horn, short stop/ outfielder McKayla Cash, outfielder Alyssa Smith and first baseman/ pitcher Kara Koz.
While players may still be struggling to find their identity in the field, offense should be a strength for the Lady Dragons in 2012.
“Overall I think our strength is going to be that we’re pretty decent hitters and that we’re speedy on the bases once we get on,” said Duncan. “I also have options in pitching this year, so I have four different pitchers, so I can change up the pitching this year more than what I used to be able to.
“I have kind of a mixture, I have some girls that can lay down the bunt, and they’re fast and they can get base hits that way. I have some hitters that have really been hitting the ball and can get more than just a single for us. Other than that, I think they grew as to how they have hit the past couple years. Especially Zani Fishburn and Kara Koz and Charlie Horn have really started picking up their hitting, and it looks like that’s going to be a big strength for us this year.”