The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Sports

March 28, 2014

HIGH SCHOOL SOFTBALL 2014 — Much on which to build

Several area 9s expecting stellar campaigns this spring

Many of the area’s softball teams were extremely young entering the 2013 season.

Many of them are still youthful as the start of the 2014 circuit looms.

The difference, however, is that youth does not equate to inexperience this time around.

A season ago, Geneva coach Eleshia’s Pitcher’s Eagles found some magic at the right time and advanced all the way to the regional tournament in Division II after winning the Premier Athletic Conference championship. Riverside played in a Division I district championship contest while Jefferson played in a Division II district semifinal and Madison took part in a Division I semi.

The Eagles look to repeat that success while the Falcons, Beavers and Blue Streaks return almost all of the important pieces from their runs a year ago and look to build on what they began.

Here’s a look at each of the teams in the Star Beacon’s coverage area as the 2014 season kicks off:

 

Conneaut

In his second season at the helm, coach Nick Armeni is facing a massive rebuild with just 3 lettermen returning to his squad. The Spartans will have to find a way to limit big mistakes and learn how to rebound from those miscues when they happen.

“With graduation and injuries to players at key positions, this year will be a great opportunity for some young ladies to step up and gain experience,” Armeni said. “With a young team, it will be important for us to stay confident and limit our mistakes.”

Junior pitcher/outfielder Lexi Zappitelli, the reigning Star Beacon Ashtabula County Player of the Year, will have lead the young Spartans both in the circle and at the plate. She is joined by fellow junior Brenna Nelson, an outfielder, and sophomore Alyssa Chadwick as the returning lettermen on a team that was 13-7 a season ago.

Zappitelli batted .605 last season with a pair of homers, 23 RBI and 17 steals. As a hurler, she was 10-5 with a save and compiled a 1.40 ERA. She fanned 104 in 104 innings and walked just 14. Chadwick hit .357 in 56 at-bats and stole 9 bases.

Armeni will welcome sophomores Amanda Chadwick (OF) and Hailey LaRusch (OF) and freshmen Brianna Oatman (P/IF), Tehiya Higley (IF), Lexi Campbell (IF/OF), Jessica Volkman (IF/OF) and Alexis Nelson (IF) to the team.

Amanda Chadwick hit .307 in limited at-bats with the varsity a year ago.

Conneaut bitten by the injury bug even before it began preparing for the season as junior second baseman Dani Heinonen injured her knee during soccer, sophomore shortstop Emily Lower injured a knee during basketball and sophomore outfielder Angela Slapnicker also injured a knee.

Since the Spartans don’t play in a league, they look to their clashes with Ashtabula County foes as key battles to win.

“I believe Jefferson to be the team to beat,” Armeni said. “Edgewood is always well-coached. I think (new coach) Jodi Candela is going to do a great job at Lakeside.”

 

Edgewood

Coach Steve Cunha finds himself in a position most coaches would envy. He returns 12 lettermen to a team that was 10-15 a year ago. Only 2 of them, Mercedes Burns (1B/OF) and Gia Saturday (SS), are seniors. He has 9 juniors and a sophomore who also return.

Now that the Warriors have experience, they have to take another step forward.

“The biggest key to our success is consistency,” Cunha said. “We were up and down, offensively and defensively, all last season. When we played poorly, we really struggled. When we played the way are capable, we beat some good teams and were close to beating a few others. Another (key) is maturity. We are no longer able to use we are a ‘young’ team as a reason for our struggles. It is time for our upperclassmen to play the way we are capable of playing.

“I believe we will and look forward to a successful season.”

Saturday batted .380, scored 21 runs, doubled 6 times and tripled and homered once each. She drove in 16 and stole 4 bases. Burns scored 6 runs and drove in 3.

Also back for the Warriors are juniors Courtney DiDonato (3B/OF/C, 11 R, 6 RBI, 6 SB, 2 2B), Taylor Diemer (P/1B, .380, 14 R, 3 2B, 3 3B, 14 RBI, 19 SB), Mo Lynch (C/3B, 9 R, 1 2B, 1 3B, 6 RBI, 2 SB), Ashten Noce (3B/C, .276, 8 R, 3 2B, 1 3B, 9 RBI, 3 SB), Taylor Rowe (2B, 7 R, 3 RBI, 3 SB), Kate Crooks (OF/IF, .310, 6 R, 1 RBI, 3 SB), Haley Holden (OF/2B, 2 R, 2 SB), Katie Boomhower (3B) and Ryan Kaydo (P/IF/OF). Sophomore outfielder/secondbaseman/shortstop Sam Blashinsky (.333, 18 R, 4 2B, 2 3B, 12 RBI, 6 SB) also returns.

In the circle, Diemer was 2-6 with a 2.82 ERA in striking out 19 and walking 5 in 49.2 innings.

Looking to break into the mix are sophomores Isa Gonzalez (C/OF), Chloe Krekelberg (IF) and Ashley Evans (P/IF) and freshmen Kaleigh Sloan (1B) and Gabby McNeil (P).

After several years in the purgatory known as an independent, the Warriors will pursue a league title once again as they join the All-American Conference.

“We are looking forward to competing in a league again,” Cunha said. “Our division is a very competitive division with schools that are perennially very good. While we haven’t played them all the last 4 years, I am familiar with them all. That being said, I believe Jefferson is the overwhelming favorite. If we do the things we are capable of doing, we can be right there with the rest of the division.”

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