By Josh Brown
and Rob Kiser
MIAMI COUNTY — Last season was a struggle for the Tippecanoe softball team.
But with youth comes growing pains — and the still-young Red Devils got some much-needed experience during their 15-15 season that saw them place fifth in the Central Buckeye Conference Kenton Trail Division. And with the returning firepower they have, the Devils are looking to make some noise in their final season in the CBC before making the move to the Greater Western Ohio Conference.
“We went 15-15 last year, including the tournament. Our overall goal is to get to at least 20-10,” first-year Tippecanoe coach Scott Sutton said. “We would like to make it to the district tournament this year. We also finished fifth out of six teams on the Kenton Trail side of the CBC last year. We want to be in the top three at least.”
Leading the way will be junior first baseman Kaitlyn Stocker, who won two legs of the triple crown last year with 13 home runs and 52 RBIs while finishing fourth in the Kenton Trail in batting average. Juniors Ashlie Shepherd (second base) and Taylor Yeager (shortstop) will help anchor the infield, with sophomore Taylor Haggerty and junior Maddie Gibler trading duties at third base and catcher, with each doing one when not the other, with senior Paige Phillips filling in as a non-starter.
Junior Sierra Sutton, who picked up three wins in eight games pitched last year, will be the Devils’ primary pitcher. And in the outfield, senior Rachel Rusk will lead the way in center, junior Meghan Kauffmann will play right and sophomore Hailee Varvel will play left, with juniors Alyssa Hallauer and Paytin Borders filling in where needed.
The Bulldogs may have struggled during the regular season last year, but they made another strong run in the postseason.
And Milton-Union is looking to get back to the district level once again this season.
“We want to finish in the top of the Southwestern Buckeye League and make a third straight trip to districts,” Milton-Union coach Curt Schaefer said. “We have a lot of girls fighting for starting spots this year, which should make for a strong season.”
The Bulldogs have experience in the pitching rotation, with senior Anna Willson as the No. 1 starter and Taylor Jacobs and Mercedes Farmer spending time on the mound, as well. Sohomores Macie Gregg and Laura Huffman will share catching duties.
Jacobs will also shore up an experienced infield at shortstop, with Mason Curtis at second and Bri Stone at first. Annika Hutchinson and Hannah Oaks will platoon at third. And in the outfield, senior Olivia Setser will anchor things in center, with seniors Michaela Fullmer and Kayla Blanton, junior Katie Lehman and freshman Courtney Seevers all vying for time.
* Miami East
Michaela Nenninger takes over as Miami East coach.
Nenninger played college softball at Urbana University and has coached the Miami Valley Xpress Gold and Miami County Blaze over the last six years.
She was varsity assistant for three years and JV coach for two years at Milton-Union.
The Vikings were 15-11 overall last season and 9-3 in the CCC.
Graduating off that team were Kris Bigelow, Olivia Edgell, Rachel Hawkins and Riann Kingrey.
Returning letterwinners include seniors Megan Pettit, Meagan Caudill, Jenna Patton and Kati Runner; juniors Alyssa Francis and Emily Hawkins; and sophomores Anna Jacomet and Emily Thimmes.
“The girls have been working extremely hard in leadership, bonding and communication,” Nenninger said. “I am extremely excited to see what the girls can provide on and off the field. Our goal for this year is to be more competitive at bat and on the field in order to take care of business.”
Mark Gibson takes over after the retirement of coaching legend Kirk Kadel.
Graduating off last year’s team were Megan Rutledge, Laura Burden and Erin Hixon.
Returning letterwinners included seniors Teagan Casey, McKell Deaton, Madison Mollette, Laura Oaks and Rylee Schauer; and sophomores Kylee Fisher, Britney Oburn, Haley Pack, Kristen Rappold and Kacie Tackett.
“Our team goals include learn at least one thing from each game we play,” Gibson said. “Make sure each player knows and understands their role and how to contribute. Win the freebie war each game, start a new culture of Newton softball, give 100 percent effort and attitude and trust and have confidence in the team.”
Gibson’s expectations are to be better by the end of the season than they are at the beginning and to be able to compete with every team in the Cross County Conference.
Dean Deanlinger returns as Covington coach.
The Buccaneers finished 27-2 overall last season and were a perfect 12-0 in the CCC.
Graduating off that team were Morgan Arbogast, Cassidy Cain, and Jessica Dammeyer.
Returning letterwinners include seniors Arianna Richards and Brooke Gostomsky, juniors Justice Warner, Allison Babylon, Lexie Long, Kara Schaffer, Addison Metz, Megan Alexander and Ashley Cecil; and sophomores Emma Dammeyer, Taylor Ray, Sarah Hubbord and Noelle Gast.
“We want to build good ‘teach and trust’ relationships within the team,” Denlinger said. “We strive to give 100 percent every day and be the best.”
Denlinger expects the CCC to be very competitive this season.
” It is a very strong league this year with a lot of parity,” Denlinger said. “We want to finish the league with a good positive team identity and strong preparation for the tournament.”
Rick Claprood returns for his 13th season as Piqua softball coach.
The Indians finished 13-15 overall last season and were 4-6 in the GWOC North.
Graduating off that team were Jade Piatt and Kendall Grunkemeyer.
Returning letterwinners include seniors Reynna Lavey, Kyla Blankenship and Megan Anderson; juniors Alyssa Jones, Alexis Gordon, Kelsie Hall, Kendra Forness and Rayna Brownlee and sophomores Sarah Marion and Morgan Ford.
“I would expect our team to perform at a high level and work hard striving for perfection,” Claprood said. “Our goal is to hit consistently, field effectively and win one game at a time.
Claprood hopes to contend for the GWOC North title.
Shon Schaffer returns for his third season as coach.
Key returners include senior pitcher Tori Smith, senior catcher Ciara Yohey, infielders Amanda Brewer and Bailey Wysong and All-CCC outfielder Olivia Hart.
“We have lost 4 years in a row by one run in the sectional finals,” Schaffer said. “It is time to get that monkey off our backs.”
Bill Booth will add to his 27-year career this season at Lehman. He is looking to improve on last year’s two-win season, but will have to do it with an extremely young team — of the 22 players out, 18 are either freshmen or sophomores.
“We’re really young this season,” said Booth. “The pitchers have been working extremely hard and show improvement, and we have a lot of young talent. I think we will be a much-improved team.”
Despite the youth, he has eight girls returning from last season. Two are seniors in Allie Hall and Sidney Chapman. Chapman, the shortstop, had a big year at the plate, hitting .453. And Hall is back at first and hit .299 last season.
The rest of the letter-winners are sophomores in Brogan McIver, Lauren Larger, Hailey Wick, Amanda Titterington, Maddy McFarland and Caitlin Swallow.
Wick will be the top pitcher, and be throwing to both Swallow and Grace Monnin, a freshman.
Titterington hit .312 last season and will play at second base, but third base will be a battle among Camille Odle, Grace Brandt and Carly Edwards.
McIver returns in the outfield and brings back a .339 batting average from last season. McFarland will also roam the outfield.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.