Prep Softball

Five burning questions to be answered during softball season

BC-WinchesterSofbal
Brown County first baseman Mariah Markert fields a pop up at first base as second baseman Bre Gooding backs her up in the top of the fourth inning. | H-W Photo/Michael Kipley
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By Herald-Whig
Posted: Mar. 18, 2017 7:35 pm Updated: Mar. 18, 2017 9:38 pm

The area softball scene is shaping up to be incredibly competitive.

Five teams won 20 more games last season. Seven new coaches inherit rosters filled with talented underclassmen. One team has the potential to be considered a state tournament contender.

How will it all play out?

Here are five questions where the answers might provide some insight into which teams to watch:

 

Is Brown County the most potent team in the area?

Mariah Markert might be the most imposing hitter in the area, not only because she stands 6-foot but she hit .511 last season and has plenty of power. However, her Brown County teammates form quite an imposing force themselves.

The Hornets have three others who hit .400 or better last season when they won 23 games, went undefeated in the Western Illinois Valley Conference and captured the first regional title in school history. Seven starters return from that team, including a solid pitching duo.

If the Hornets are to repeat as regional champions and potentially knock off the likes of Central, it will be because they can put the ball in play.

 

Does the Year of the Mustang continue?

The Unity girls basketball team enjoyed a history-making effort this winter, winning the program's first sectional championship and state trophy as it finished second in Class 1A.

It's the softball team's chance to follow suit.

The Mustangs won 20 games and reached the regional title game for the first time last season. With a bevy of upperclassmen returning, Unity has a chance to continue the trophy haul. It won't be easy. Central is the Class 1A team to beat in West-Central Illinois, while Brown County and Griggsville-Perry are coming off 20-win seasons and return a bulk of their rosters.

The combination of four-year starters Jordan Hildebrand, Piper Obert, Kelsey Simmons and Haley Miller along with solid underclassmen like Addison Miller gives the Mustangs depth and a lineup capable of contending with the area's best.

 

Is Central's Jacey Nall unhittable?

The junior right-hander opened the season Friday night with a five-inning perfect game against Pleasant Hill. It's simply a sign of things to come.

The 2016 Herald-Whig Player of the Year was the area's most dominant pitcher last season, striking out 259 and walking just 22 in 148 innings. She had a 1.09 ERA and went toe-to-toe with University of Kentucky recruit Grace Baalman in an epic 14-inning battle in the sectional championship that ended with Calhoun winning 1-0.

Nall's velocity, ability to mix pitches and accuracy with her location is what makes her tough. Having a solid defense behind her make the no-hitters and perfect games possible. With seven other starters returning, Central has the potential to post zeroes night in and night out.

 

What does Rodney Pence inherit at Illini West?

The first-year coach takes over a 25-win team capable of matching or exceeding that victory total.

The Chargers have two pitchers returning, four other starters and a strong sophomore class that can fill a variety of roles. Winning a Class 2A regional, however, depends on how Blair Boston and Lara Pence perform in the circle.

The combination -- both are effective as starters and relievers -- will allow Rodney Pence to pick and choose the lineup he wants each of his pitchers to face. It also gives him the flexibility to make a pitching change at any point, which means no opposing offense should get comfortable against either hurler.

 

Does Payson Seymour regain regional swagger?

The Indians won seven regional titles between 2000 and 2012, culminating the run with a second-place state finish and a 32-victory season in 2012. Payson since hasn't reached a regional title game.

First-year coach Lisa Schwartz inherits a team withg two sophomore hurlers and no seniors. That might seem like a problem for some, but the Indians played so many underclassmen last season they act like veterans now.

It should make the Indians' defense solid, especially up the middle with Haley Hickerson returning at shortstop and Paige Perrine back at second base. Payson needs to find a backstop to handle Tori Schieferdecker and Cheyenne Burgess, who took over as the primary hurler when Schieferdecker underwent an appendectomy during the season.