SHELBY — Anytime a softball team has eight returning letter winners and most of them have two and three letters on their jackets, a coach has to feel confident in the prospects of a successful season.
For Shelby softball coach Samantha Martin, she likes what she sees. After the Whippets went 12-12 last year and 8-6 in the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference, they bring back eight letter winners with seven starters and many of those are familiar faces she has seen over the last couple of years. Entering her third year as head coach with a 22-27 record, Martin is ready to see the Whippets take the next step and compete for a league championship.
"The biggest X-Factor for our team to have a successful season is to rely on one another," Martin said. "Our team takes pride in being a unit and trusting that their teammate will be there to have their back and pick them up when they are down. A Lot of our girls have played together for a long time on this team and they know each other very well and are very close. I think this will lead to us having a very successful season."
Junior Kendal Parsons will make the move to catcher for the graduated Lexi Thompson. Parsons hit .278 a year ago and will look to build on her leadership behind the dish. Sophomore Kennedy Studer will start at first base after hitting .282 as a freshman.
Sophomore Trinity Baker is back at second base after hitting .349 in her first varsity season. Senior Alyssa Neill will start at third after Sadie Smith graduated. Neill hit .408 and earned honorable mention All-Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference and second team All-Northwest District for her efforts as a junior.
Junior Maggie Bogner moves in at shortstop for the injured Mallary Gundrum. Bogner hit .296 last season.
Senior Demi Hipp earns the start in left field after hitting .333 a year ago. Freshman Natalie Kennard will start in center with sophomore Kendra Walp in right.
Junior Alexis Booker will be the ace of the pitching staff after posting a 4.10 earned run average with 45 strikeouts a season ago. She also hit .333 to show her versatility. Junior Kelsey Snyder sported a 3.50 ERA and sophomore Alyssa Booker owned a 6.20 ERA and will all see time in the circle. Sophomore Adey Cornette will bring depth to the pitching staff as well.
The Whippets will be without Gundrum, a junior who tore her ACL during preseason basketball, and she will be tough to replace. She hit .398 with 21 RBIs earning second team All-MOAC as a sophomore.
"Both of our senior have started varsity since their freshman year so they have a lot of experience," Martin said. "Last season Alyssa played first base for us and was the most clutch hitter on the team getting hits when we needed them most. Her batting average was .408, on-base percentage was .444, and slugging percentage was .592 so we know what we get from her at the plate. Last season Demi played right field for us. Her batting average was .333 and her speed on the bases helped us as she went across home plate 14 times.
"All of our juniors have started since they were freshmen, too. Maggie had a great sophomore season last year, after spending a year rehabbing the ACL she tore at the start of her freshman season. Maggie started in left field for us all last season and batted .296. This season Maggie will step into a position she has not played before to help fill the big shoes of Mallary Gundrum who tore her ACL this basketball season. Maggie is a great leader, her teammates look up to her. I think she will have a breakout season.
"Lexi has pitched for us since her freshman year and played right field. Last season she batted .333 and had an ERA of around four and 45 strikeouts. Lexi has just continued to improve each season, and I can’t wait to see what this season entails. Kendal played center field for us last season. She batted .279. She is a player you can practically put anywhere on the field. This season she will do most of the catching for us. She is very quick and has a strong arm, and I am looking forward to seeing her behind the plate.
"Kelsey had a great season pitching for us last year. She trusts her defense and doesn’t strike a lot of people out but places the ball well so her defense can get out behind her. She won six games and picked up eight saves so she was instrumental in helping us win."
The Whippets have high expectations when it comes to their performance in the MOAC, a league they finished in fifth last year.
"Our team’s goal for the upcoming season is to first compete for an MOAC championship," Martin said."The softball in the MOAC is very competitive, and playing those games can help with our second goal which is to make a push into the postseason. We have made it to the sectional finals the past two years, but would really like to win a sectional championship and more. What we need to do to achieve these goals is continue to push ourselves and get better every day.
"The league looks very good this season. Ontario didn’t lose anybody really from last year so they will be right back towards the top again, Highland did have a big senior class but they are always really good and have a nice returning pitcher, and River Valley and Clear Fork are always competitive. So we are really hoping to finish in the top. We have girls with alot of experience and drive. Our pitching staff is young but experienced and all have at least one more year after this so I’m looking forward to that."
The Whippets begin their season at home against Huron on March 25.
This article originally appeared on Mansfield News Journal: Shelby Whippets hope to compete for Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference title