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March 16, 2013

Trio seek playoff wins this time

Softball teams came up short after strong regular

TERRE HAUTE — Near the end of the 2012 high school softball season, three Wabash Valley Class 4A teams thought they had a realistic chance of going deep in the state tournament.

But Terre Haute North got knocked off by Northview 5-4 May 21 in the Northview Sectional. The Patriots finished with a 21-8 mark.

Northview went on to lose to Terre Haute South 5-1 May 22. The Knights ended up

23-7.

With that victory for the Braves, they earned the right to face Plainfield for the sectional championship May 23. But they lost 1-0, concluding their season at 24-8.

So the combined record for South, North and Northview was an impressive 68-23, yet there was no sectional title for any of them.

And what eventually happened to Plainfield last season? Well, some of you might remember the Quakers captured the Class 4A state championship.

“Our sectional is always tough,” Northview coach Bethany Jones pointed out. “You never know what’s going to happen. I think last year was a perfect example of that.”

“The records are great, but we have to win that sectional,” veteran North coach Jack Kirchner emphasized.

Now it’s almost time for a new season to begin and all three of these Valley schools — plus Class 3A West Vigo — are hoping for a deeper tournament run.

• • •

Below is a look at how these four squads appear to stack up in 2013:

• Northview — Beginning her ninth season in charge, Jones will rely heavily on senior standout Taylor Carter, who will take her talents to East Tennessee State in the fall, to provide pitching and offense in the spring.

Last season, the pitcher/first baseman smashed nine home runs and 12 doubles with 42 runs batted in and 29 runs scored while posting a .490 batting average and a .900 slugging percentage. On the mound, the right-handed Carter went 16-6 with four shutouts, a 1.59 earned-run average and 166 strikeouts in 141 innings.

“I just had a talk with Taylor,” Jones told the Tribune-Star on Friday. “Now that she’s signed [with East Tennessee State], she should just relax and try to have fun out there.

“She’s improved from last year even and I feel like she’s really going to step in and be a team leader for us this year. She can be a little quiet at times, but she’s starting to come out of her shell.”

Among the Knights’ other key returnees are senior catcher Ashley Hughes (.333, 35 runs); sophomore shortstop/pitcher Whitney Halfhill (.319, 33 runs, eight doubles, four steals, played a lot of first base in 2012); senior center fielder Hope Torbert (.259, two homers, 17 walks); senior left fielder Kindra Cox; and sophomore third baseman/right fielder Madison Nevins (.323).

Jones said righties Halfhill (6-1, 3.33 ERA) and Jensen Swaim, a junior, will see time at pitcher when Carter plays elsewhere or rests.

“We do have several players back, although we’ve got some key positions that we’ve got to fill too,” Jones assessed. “Overall, I have very high expectations for this team. They get along great. There’s a lot of good team chemistry. Probably our big thing this year is that opponents will respect Taylor Carter so much that they’ll walk her a lot and our other hitters will have to step up and make the other teams pay.”

The Knights’ coach mentioned that juniors Lindsey Potter (right field or third base) and Shelby Dupin (maybe second base) and sophomore Tori Tilley (first or second base) are possibilities to step in and fill the roles of players who graduated after last season.

“We don’t have a lot of depth,” Jones admitted. “We are lower in numbers than in past years. So we can’t afford any injuries to key players.”

She predicts Edgewood will be the team to beat in the Western Indiana Conference. “They’ve won our conference the last several years.”

• Terre Haute North — Kirchner is ready to kick off his 13th season as the Patriots’ head coach and 18th season on their staff.

In other words, he’s got enough experience to know more than a little about the sport of softball. So when he says one of his players is likely to become a significant NCAA Division I talent someday, folks should listen.

That player would be junior Jazmine Allen, who is switching from center field to shortstop this season.

In 2012, Allen hit .567 with six homers, 12 doubles, 17 stolen bases and a .944 slugging percentage. She also scored 34 runs and knocked in 25.

“She’s very athletic,” Kirchner explained. “I don’t think it’ll be much for her to change positions, although she likes center field better. But she’ll do whatever it takes. She’s worked hard all winter. She doesn’t miss any of our open gyms. She’s really been working on her hitting and she’s starting to be a leader.”

He also praised the maturity that Allen has demonstrated this year.

“She understands that she’s not going to get a hit every time up,” Kirchner noted. “She’s leading by example.”

Other returning starters or frequent contributors are junior right fielder/first baseman Adrienne Pritchard (.417, two homers and nine RBIs in only 12 games), junior third baseman Katie Herrick. junior left fielder Lorrie LaTourette (.304), senior catcher/outfielder Allie McKinney (.345), senior catcher Kaci McBride (.318, two homers) and senior pitcher/right fielder Alisha Ludwig.

Pritchard tore an anterior cruciate ligament while swinging a bat last season, so Kirchner figures North fans have not seen the true talent of the 6-foot-2 Pritchard yet.

“She’s got a cannon for an arm and the girl can flat-out hit it,” he mentioned.

Kirchner likes the potential of this group, although previous starter Paige Collins — who would have been a senior — moved to Ohio with her family between seasons.

“We’re learning the game better,” he said. “The kids are starting to know how to not just play the game, but think the game. … It’s all going to be about how we hit. I think our pitching is going to be OK. We’ve just got to be able to make contact.”

Besides Ludwig (7-3, 3.45 ERA), other pitchers expecting to see action are junior Morgan Young (6-1, 2.48) and sophomores Allison Crick and Conner Nelson.

Looking at the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference, Kirchner sees Center Grove as the favorite to finish first.

“They’ve got just about everybody back,” he said. “Carmel lost a lot of people, including their pitcher and a couple of really good hitters.”

Kirchner thinks Carmel, North and South should contend for the MIC title as well.

• Terre Haute South — The Braves have a first-year head coach in 46-year-old Dwayne Stout, who had been a South assistant for the previous four seasons.

A former Chesterton High School baseball player and a graduate of Purdue University, Stout was hired in early 2013 to replace Steve Woerner, who had stepped down last summer.

“I love the game,” Stout said, explaining why he wanted the job. “I love coaching it and I love seeing the girls give everything they’ve got. I love the excitement.”

Stout acknowledged that he saw some potential in this South group of 26 players. Sixteen are underclassmen and 10 are sophomores.

“Our offense will be our biggest asset,” he stressed. “Our hitting, our speed on the bases, we’re going to use that to put pressure on the opposition. Right now, I’ve got six returning starters and I’ve got stiff competition going on for the remaining three positions.”

Some of the Braves’ top returnees are Ball State-bound senior Shelbie Scamihorn, a catcher who drove in 22 runs last season; junior Mackenzie McGregor, a first baseman who smacked four homers; senior Cheyenne Reinig, a second baseman/pitcher who also hit four homers; junior Lexi Higgins, a center fielder who scored 32 runs; junior Kelsey Marlow, who scored 28 runs; and sophomore Hollie Jones, a third baseman.

“This team is going to be strong up the middle defensively,” Stout pointed out. “That’s going to be our strong suit.”

South’s new man in charge anticipates Reinig, sophomore Hanna Gossman and Jackie Swain — all right-handers — to handle the pitching duties.

“I think we’re young, but very capable,” Stout said of his staff. “We took some great strides last year. These girls worked hard all winter.”

Assessing the MIC, Stout agreed with Kirchner that Center Grove might have an edge to win the crown, with Carmel probably next in line.

•  West Vigo — Fifth-year coach Cherish Easton said her squad, which finished 10-16 in 2012, is already battling injuries and its first game of 2013 is scheduled for Tuesday at Marshall, Ill.

But she still thinks she has a reasonably strong nucleus.

Returnees include junior outfielder Kenzie Little (.380, 14 RBIs, 16 runs), senior second baseman Ciara McClain, senior third baseman Jacy McClain (Ciara’s cousin who was hitting .417 before suffering a head injury last season), junior right-handed pitcher Hannah Harden (who missed a big portion of last season with injuries to both of her knees), junior catcher/outfielder Brittany Voils, sophomore center fielder Baylee Waters, sophomore catcher/utility specialist Charity Lane, junior outfielder Kortney Brown, junior Kenzie Roth, senior right-handed pitcher Kayla Akers (who may miss the early part of this season with an injury) and sophomore Miranda Mann (who may only bat early in the season because of a dislocated shoulder).

Easton said a few freshmen will be thrown into the max immediately — primarily new starting shortstop Shelby Edington, who may bat cleanup.

“She’s tough, she’s smart and she’s got a good stick,” the Vikings’ coach said.

Another freshman expected to contribute is right-handed pitcher Leah Morrison, who may see action at first base when Harden is pitching.

“She’s quicker than what we had last year,” Easton indicated. “And she’s got a good stick.”

Freshman Mary Curley could see action in the outfield, the West Vigo coach added.

Easton named Northview and Edgewood as “always the favorites [to win] in the WIC.”

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