The weather is beginning to turn and winter sports are down to their final weeks. You know what that means; softball season is here.
As some teams gear up for opening day this week, here are this year's preseason power rankings and some players to keep an eye on throughout the season.
1. Penn (20-12)
Games this week: Mar. 23 vs LaPorte, Mar. 26 at Carroll
Last year, the Kingsmen advanced to the 4A semistate semifinals before losing to Noblesville. Penn should once again be one of the top area teams, led by Northern Indiana Conference first-team outfielder, Alexis Riem, and NIC honorable mentions Aubrey Zachary and Abby Widmar. Reim batted .284 last season with 23 hits and 14 RBI, while Widmar batted .315 with 28 hits and 26 RBI. As a freshman, Zachary was one of the best arms in the area, recording a 1.98 ERA in 60 innings pitched, allowing 17 earned runs and striking out 80 batters.
2. Fairfield (26-5 )
Games this week: Mar. 25 at Bremen
Last year the Falcons advanced to the 2A semistate championship, before losing to Pioneer. They open this season on Friday with a road matchup against Bremen.
3. Northridge (25-4)
First games: Mar. 28 at Fairfield, Mar. 29 vs Lakeland, Mar. 31 at SB Adams
Last year, the Raiders advanced to the 4A regional championship before falling to Penn. Northridge loses two big bats from last season's lineup in Madison Wienert and Makenna Knepp, but senior, Chloe Gust, returns after batting .494 with 43 hits and 42 RBI a year ago. The Raiders' ace, Abby Hostetler, is also back after pitching 114 1/3 innings last season, striking out 210 batters and recording a 1.16 ERA.
4. South Bend Saint Joseph (19-8)
First game: April 9 vs. Huntington North
The Indians advanced to last year's 3A semistate semifinals before falling to Kankakee Valley and are expected to be a loaded squad once again. Saint Joe's top three hitters, Haley West, Riley Zache and Kennedy Swope, are back in this year's lineup. West batted .451 last year, recording a team-high 32 hits and 18 RBI. Zache batted .370 with 30 hits and 21 RBI and Swope batted .397 with 25 hits and 18 RBI. Savannah Hamilton will also be back in the circle for the Indians after throwing 137 2/3 innings, striking out 134 and recording a 1.47 ERA last year.
5. South Bend Adams (16-6)
First game: Mar. 31 vs. Northridge
The Eagles lost to Penn in last year's 4A sectional semifinals, but return most of their batting order. Some names to watch will be Haleigh Smith, Emmalyn Zielinski and Kacey Browning. Smith recorded a team-high 36 hits last year with 17 RBI and a .474 batting average. Zielinski, a sophomore last year, batted .426 with 26 hits and a team-high 25 RBs, while Browning batted .383 with 23 hits and 22 RBI. Halie Charmat will also be back on the mound for Adams after pitching 95 innings, striking out 143 batters and recording a 2.95 ERA a year ago.
6. LaPorte 16-14
Games this week: Mar. 23 at Penn
The Slicers advanced to last year's 4A sectional final before losing to Penn. LaPorte also brings back some of its big hitters from a year ago in Nikki Burke, Peyton Harlow and Reghan Stephany. Burke recorded a team-high 39 hits with 18 RBI and a .390 batting average in her junior season. Harlow added 33 hits with a team-high 25 RBI and a .351 batting average, while Stephany, as a freshman, recorded 31 hits and 11 RBI last year. Marcy Bearickx will likely take over the ace role after throwing 42 1/3 innings with 48 strikeouts and a 7.61 ERA last season.
7. Mishawaka (14-12)
First game: April 9 vs. Huntington North
Last year the Caveman advanced to the 4A sectional semifinals before losing to LaPorte. Mishawaka doesn't open the season until April 9th when it hosts Huntington North.
8. New Prairie (15-12)
First game: April 9 at Griffith
The Cougars advanced to last year's 3A sectional finals before losing to South Bend Saint Joseph and return a large portion of their production in Abby Robakowski, Carli Tharp and Makayla Collins. Robakowski was New Prairie's top hitter, recording a team-high 46 hits, team-high 43 RBI and a team-high .465 batting average, and will once again be one of the most feared batters in the NIC this season. Tharp batted .400 a year ago with 36 hits and 21 RBI, while Collins, as a sophomore, batted .372 with 32 hits and 30 RBI.
9. Goshen (19-11)
Games this week: Mar. 23 at SB Riley, Mar. 25 at West Noble
Goshen advanced to last year's 4A sectional final before losing to Northridge. It returns some big bats to its lineup in Olivia Koshmider and Travis Marcum. Koshmider led the RedHawks with 51 hits last year, while batting .537 and adding 28 RBI. Marcum added 48 hits, with a team-high 47 RBI and a .533 batting average. Marcum also pitched 58 innings last year with a 4.34 ERA, forming a strong 1-2 punch with Liz Ramirez, who also returns this season after throwing 109 1/3 innings last year, with 133 strikeouts and a 2.95 ERA.
10. Bremen (16-12)
Games this week: Mar. 23 at Manchester, Mar. 25 vs. Fairfield, Mar. 26 at NorthWood
Last year, the Lions advanced to the 3A sectional finals before losing to Kankakee Valley. Mikey Shively, who recorded a team-high 35 hits as a freshman, with 25 RBI and a .376 batting average, returns this year to lead Bremen's offense, while Naomi Flores will be expected to take over pitching duties after throwing 50 innings last year, striking out 53 batters and recording a 2.94 ERA.
Other top players
Grace O'Hara Mishawaka Marian
As a sophomore, O'Hara recorded a team-high 42 hits last season, while adding eight RBI and a team-high .462 batting average.
Avi Heilman, South Bend Riley
Heilman was one of the Wildcats' best batters last year as a junior and is expected to be the team's top pitcher this season. As a junior, she recorded a team-high 29 hits, team-high 16 RBI and a team-high .460 batting average. With Emma Meert gone, Heilman will be the Riley's ace after pitching eight innings and giving up 25 hits and 21 earned runs a year ago.
Faith Hyduk, South Bend Clay
Hyduk was one of Clay's best players as a sophomore last year, recording 34 hits, 22 RBI and a .378 batting average. She was also Clay's best pitcher, recording a 2.68 ERA in 107 innings pitched, striking out 131 batters and allowing124 hits.
Emily Gletty, Jimtown
As a freshman, Gletty put in a strong season as Jimtown's ace. In 19 appearances, Gletty pitched 8- innings, striking out 82 batters and recording a 4.55 ERA with a 6-7 record.
This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: These are the area's top teams, players to look out for in preps softball