Prep Softball

Capsule look at the Illinois high school softball teams

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Central's shortstop Brianna Hildebrand throws out Illini West's Baylee Clampitt at first during the third inning. | H-W Photo/Michael Kipley
Posted: Mar. 18, 2017 9:35 pm Updated: Mar. 18, 2017 9:41 pm

Brown County

Coach: David Woodruff (23-9 at Brown County, second season; fourth season overall).

2016 record: 23-9 (8-0, first place in the Western Illinois Valley Conference).

Returning starters: P-3B Alissa Hodge, Jr.; OF-2B Bre Gooding, Soph.; C Chloe Alsup, Jr.; P-3B Hailey Alsup, Jr.; CF Hallie Laning, Jr.; 1B-OF Kylie Moorman, Jr.; SS Mariah Markert, Jr.

New faces: OF Hope Moorman, Fr.; OF-C Faith Boylan, Fr.; 2B Kacy Dunlap, Fr.

Key losses: C Kelly Buss, OF Danielle Buss, OF Lindsey Moore.

Outlook: The Lady Hornets set a school record for victories last season, while winning the first conference and regional titles in school history. If they repeat their accomplishments, they will need to do it with fewer players. Brown County has only 10 players in the program and no seniors. Seven starters are back, including four who hit better than .400. Markert led the Lady Hornets with a .511 average. Brown County also will be anchored by a dependable pitching duo in Hodge and Hailey Alsup, who combined to strike out 210 batters and walk 73. "We have a strongly knit team and we hope to continue pushing our program toward a winning tradition," Woodruff said.

 

Central

Coach: Amy Hildebrand (208-195 at Central, 13th season).

2016 record: 30-8 (8-0, first place in the West Central Conference North Division).

Returning starters: P-3B Jacey Nall, Jr.; P-3B Brey Genenbacher, Sr.; C-SS Brianna Hildebrand, Sr.; C-1B Gracee Fundel, Sr.; OF-SS Alaina Vance, Sr.; OF-SS Alexis Williams, Sr.; OF Katelyn Genenbacher, Sr.; OF Mallori Dewitt, Sr.

New faces: None listed.

Key losses: OF-1B Kyleigh Irvin, DP Britani Prescott.

Outlook: The Lady Panthers played in one of the area's most memorable softball games in many years last May ญญ -- a 1-0, 14-inning loss to eventual state champion Hardin Calhoun in the Class 1A sectional championship game. Central's goal this year is go a couple of a steps farther. Don't bet against them. Central graduated only one starter and returns the area's most dominant pitcher in Nall. She will be backed by a fundamentally strong team, many of whom have started at the varsity level since their freshman year. Five returners hit better than .340 last season. The Panthers have speed, led by Vance, who stole 30 bases last spring, and Brianna Hildebrand, who had 20 steals. "The nucleus of our team is returning, so we are looking to improve from last year as far as win-loss record and the postseason," Amy Hildebrand said.

 

Griggsville-Perry

Coach: Joe Butler (first season at Griggsville-Perry).

2016 record: 20-15 (Western Illinois Valley Conference record unavailable).

Returning starters: 3B Devin Battefeld, Sr.; P-1B Jordan Brite, Jr.

New faces: P-1B Brianna Brown, Fr.; SS Kaitlyn Leenerts, Fr.; OF-IF Erin Rezba, Fr.; C-OF Hope Scott, Soph.

Key losses: OF-P Lynley Ellis, SS Peyton Bonds, 2B Kenzie Flowers, 1B Bailey Powers.

Outlook: Several key graduation losses will leave the Lady Tornadoes looking to some of their younger players for contributions. However, those youngsters will be led by a pair of four-year starters in Battefeld and Brite. They were key components of a 20-win season last spring. Despite the youth, Butler still believes his team has a shot to win a regional championship. "It could be a rebuilding season because we have a lot of girls who didn't get much on-field playing time," Butler said. "But one of our strengths is we have a lot of players who can play different positions. That's going to be important for us."

 

Illini West

Coach: Rodney Pence (first season at Illini West).

2016 record: 25-10 (6-2, second place in the West Central Conference South Division).

Returning starters: C-OF Hannah Spiekemeier, Sr.; P/OF Lara Pence, Jr.; P/OF Blair Boston, Jr., IF Baylee Clampitt, Jr.; OF Daytona Dooley, Soph.; IF Hannah Wood, Soph.

New faces: IF Rylie Harrell, Jr., IF/OF Kelly Sirtak, Jr.; IF/OF Gracie McDowell, Soph.; IF/OF Ali Bliss, Soph.; IF/OF/C Sydney Carlisle, Soph.

Key losses: C Mackenzi Anderson, IF Chloe Walker, IF Connor Smith.

Outlook: Pence takes over the coaching reins and inherits an experienced team. Six starters are back, including four-year starter Spiekermeier and three-year starter Lara Pence. Dooley led the Chargers in hitting as a freshman with a .396 average to go with eight home runs and 33 RBIs. Clampitt hit .346 and drove in 25 RBIs, and Lara Pence also drove in 25 runs. Boston and Lara Pence also return in the pitcher's circle after combining for 179 strikeouts and only 45 walks. "We should be very strong defensively as we have many options with our utility type team," Rodney Pence said. "Many of these girls have played travel ball together for several years and bond well."

 

Liberty

Coach: Sara Reichert (first season at Liberty).

2016 record: 15-15 (5-3, third place in the West Central Conference South Division).

Returning starters: CF Shelby Clinging, Sr.; LF Mikayla Higdon, Sr.; C Cadence Thomas, Sr.; 1B Kaleigh Powell, Sr.

New faces: P Gracie Scott, Sr.; SS Payton Anderson, Fr.; P Kenzey Wagner, Fr.; 2B Autumn Buckley, Sr.; C Jenna Hahn, Soph.

Key losses: SS Ashley Lefringhouse, 2B Rachel Buyck, 3B Michaela Leapley, P Adrian Siebers.

Outlook: It's the beginning of a new era in Lady Eagles softball as Steve Buyck stepped away from the program after nine seasons, allowing Reichert to take over. Although four key players graduated, the cupboard isn't bare. Thomas was one of Liberty's top hitters last year, hitting .453, while Clinging hit .354 to go with 25 RBIs and 12 stolen bases. Scott, who pitched eight innings last year, and Wagner will be called on to keep the team together in the pitching circle. "This season will be a mixture of young and old for Liberty softball," Reichert said. "However, the goal, as always, is to play quality softball."

 

Payson Seymour

Coach: Lisa Schwartz (first season at Payson Seymour).

2016 record: 11-11 (6-2, tied for first place in the West Central Conference South Division).

Returning starters: LF Abi Gregg, Jr.; SS Haley Hickerson, Jr.; 2B Paige Perrine, Jr.; C Riley Epperson, Soph.; P Tori Schieferdecker, Soph.; CF Lauryn Hinthorne, Soph.; P Cheyenne Burgess, Soph.

New faces: 1B Emily Schreacke, Fr.; 2B Natalie Howell, Fr.; RF Livia Perry, Fr.; 3B Tabitha Maas, Fr.

Key losses: C Abbi Zanger, CF Jessica Glas, 1B Emily Mast.

Outlook: The Lady Indians were forced to count on a lot of young players last season. They will still be a young team this spring. Payson has no seniors and only three juniors who started last year. Gregg, Hickerson and Perrine will be counted on for leadership roles, while Schieferdecker, Hinthorne and Burgess have a year of experience under their belt. Schieferdecker started last season as the Lady Indians' primary hurler but had an appendectomy midway through last season, opening the door for Burgess. "We are a young team with a short bench but a lot of determination," Schwartz said. "Our goal is to play smart and improve every time we take the field."

 

Pittsfield

Coach: Kristi Heafner (second season at Pittsfield).

2016 record: Not provided.

Returning starters: LF Maddy Gwartney, Sr.; 2B Kennedy Merryman, Sr.; 1B Katie Bland, Sr.; C Allison Butler, Sr.; RF Lindsey Bonnell, Sr.; LF McKinley Jennings, Soph.; SS-3B Kameron Smithers, Soph.

New faces: SS-OF Kaitlyn Place, Sr.; P Gabi Davis, Soph.

Key losses: 3B-P Megan Reinhardt, 3B-P Bailey Waggoner.

Outlook: This is one of the Lady Saukees' most experienced teams in a while. Seven starters return with Gwartney and Merryman back for their third season in the lineup. The graduation of last year's pitchers, Reinhardt and Waggoner, means Pittsfield will turn to some fresh arms in the circle. Heafner has emphasized during practice the importance of reducing the number of errors the Lady Saukees made last year. "We need to eliminate those kinds of mental mistakes," Heafner said. "Our biggest challenge is staying mentally tough when we face challenges."

 

Pleasant Hill

Coach: Ryan Lowe (first season at Pleasant Hill).

2016 record: Not provided.

Returning starters: P Deme Batchelor, Jr.; 3B Keely Collard, Sr.; SS Larissa White, Jr.; CF Hannah Allen, Jr.; C Allyson Minor, Jr.; LF Carly White, Jr.

New faces: SS Katie Moore, Sr.

Key losses: None listed.

Outlook: The Lady Wolves were winless last spring but Lowe is pleased with the offseason work his players put in. "We have had several girls who have put in some time in the offseason," Lowe said. "Hopefully we will see some results from that and be more competitive this year." Moore and Collard are the team's only seniors although Pleasant Hill will count on Batchelor, a junior, for a big contribution. Batchelor has started since her freshman year and will help the team in a variety of ways. "I believe big keys for us will be working hard and sticking together as a team," Lowe said. "Hopefully, that will help us pull out a few wins."

 

Southeastern

Coach: Sue Owen (first season at Southeastern).

2016 record: Not provided.

Returning starters: Brittany Twidwell, Sr.; Sydnie Ballas, Jr., Abbey Owen, Soph.; Jayleigh Peuster, Soph.; Sheyenne Covert, Soph.

New faces: C-SS Avery Waner, Fr.; 2B-OF Molly Rea, Fr.; OF-1B Rylie Whitaker, Fr.

Key losses: C Emma Day, 2B Natalie Hester, IF Randalyn Smith.

Outlook: This will be the Lady Suns' most experienced team in a while. However, they will still be a young team in terms of age. Southeastern returns five starters from last season but has only one senior and one junior. The rest of the roster is filled with sophomores and freshmen. A strength for the Lady Suns will be pitching. Both of the team's hurlers, Twidwell and Owen, pitched the majority of the innings last season. Southeastern will also need leadership from Ballas, the lone junior. "We do have some returning starters back so we will have something to build around," Owen said.

 

Unity

Coach: Greg Hildebrand (fourth season at Unity).

2016 record: 20-9 (6-2, tied for first place in the West Central Conference South Division).

Returning starters: P-C-SS Jordan Hildebrand, Sr.; UT Addison Miller, Soph.; CF Kiersten Pratt, Sr.; OF Piper Obert, Sr.; 3B Kelsey Simmons, Sr.; SS-LF Amanda Schrader, Jr.; 1B Jordan Howell, Sr.; UT Haley Miller, Sr.

Other returning letterwinners: OF Lindsey Fuller, Sr.; RF Hannah Kasparie, Jr.; 2B Emma Hildebrand, Sr.; UT Jamie Ellerman, Soph.

New faces: None listed.

Key losses: None.

Outlook: The Lady Mustangs recorded two firsts last spring. Unity won 20 games for the first time in school history before advancing to the Class 1A regional championship game for the first time where it lost to Brown County. With everyone back, the Lady Mustangs are ready to take the next step. A strong nucleus of four-year starters are now seniors, led by All-WCC first-team performer Jordan Hildebrand. She will receive help in the pitching circle from Addison Miller, who enjoyed a breakout freshman year. Pratt, Obert, Schrader, Howell and Simmons are other all-conference performers who will provide timely hitting during the season. "These girls are ready for the season," Greg Hildebrand said. "They've put in the work and are anxious to do something special."

 

Western

Coach: Bobby Ulianich (first season at Western).

2016 record: 10-15 (3-5, fourth place in the West Central Conference South Division).

Returning starters: P Chloe Mellon, Soph.; SS Jordan Walston, Soph.; UT Savannah Hull, Soph.; UT Lonita Ash, Jr.; 3B Tori Weir, Jr.; 2B Julia Grammer, Sr.; OF Lyndsey Woodward, Sr.

New faces: None listed.

Key losses: None listed.

Outlook: The Wildcats were above .500 for the first half of last season before struggling down the stretch. They hope a more experienced lineup will keep that from happening this spring. Ash is Western's leading returning hitter after putting up a .388 average last season. She will be joined by Hull, who hit .358, and Walston, who hit .333. Ulianich, who coached select teams in the St. Louis area for over 15 years, is looking forward to having Mellon in the pitching circle. "I think we have returning players and leadership to lead this team," Ulianich said.

 

West Hancock

Coach: Gena Dewald (107-41 at West Hancock, 7th year).

2016 record: 15-14 (4-3, third place in the West Central Conference South Division).

Returning starters: P McKenzie Hall, Sr.; C Abi Shaw, Sr.; SS Brianna Dean, Sr.; 3B Erynn Gerhardt, Jr.; CF Liz Walker, Soph.; 1B Olivia Gibbs, Sr.; 2B Audrey Bryant, Jr.

New faces: OF Anna Walker, Fr.; INF Madison Walters, Fr.; OF Alivia Jacquot, Fr.; OF Madelyn Wixom, Fr.

Key losses: 3B Karly Mecklenburg, LF Bailey Nagel.

Outlook: West Hancock returns several players from last year's team which lost to Illini Bluffs in the semifinals of the Class 2A regional. Much of the Titans' success will be centered around Hall, who batted .457 with four home runs and 30 RBIs last season while pitching all but two games last year, compiling a 4.82 earned run average with 140 strikeouts in 168 1/3 innings. Finding replacements for Mecklenburg (.406, 4 HR, 46 RBIs) and Nagel (.389) won't be easy, but expect more from Shaw (.302, 2 HR, 14 stolen bases) and Liz Walker (.302, 15 RBIs). Dewald also is excited about a group of freshmen who could fill in varsity holes. "Our overall team speed is better this year, and we look to put pressure on our opponents with baserunning," Dewald said. "We have several things to work on, but we are looking forward to a solid season with a better record than last."