After doubling its win total from the previous season, the Columbus East softball team is looking to make an even bigger jump this spring.
The Olympians went 4-18 last season and made it to the sectional final before falling to Bloomington South 5-0. With seven starters returning, East figures to be much improved.
“We probably are going to be a better team this year than we have been in the last two years,” East coach Sonny Stahl said.
“We have one of the best catchers in the state. We have two great pitchers. Right now, it’s early, but we’re looking a lot better at this time than we did last year.”
Sophomore Hayley Smalley and junior Erin Tharp did most of the pitching for the Olympians last season. Back to lead the offense is sophomore catcher and Butler recruit Elyse Babb, who batted .368 as a freshman.
Smalley batted .270 last season. Tharp, who played center field when she wasn’t pitching and could play shortstop this year, batted .239.
“Those are three big hitters, and Kaitlynn Dye should be stepping up this year as a hitter,” Stahl said.
“The rest of the team are not long hitters, but they’re base hitters.”
Dye, a sophomore third baseman, batted .310. Also returning are senior first baseman Taylor Hildebrand, junior right fielder Kierston Henderson and junior outfielder Blake Thompson, who could move to second base.
Junior Caitlyn Williams, who started as a freshman, is back after sitting out last season and could play second. Freshman Kaitlin Wagner will start in center. Junior Moriah Herbert and senior Kaitlyn Huffman could also see time in the outfield.
“Everybody we have this year is hitting the ball right now,” Stahl said. “They’re fielding the ball well. They’re clicking.
“Even our freshman is a very good hitter, and she’s a good fielder,” he said.
“I think we’re going to be stronger in our hitting than we were last year. We were dependent on a couple of players too much. This year, they’ve pulled together more as a team.”
After opening the season at Bloomington North on April 3 and with a home doubleheader against Bloomington South on April 5, East will play six games in five days from April 8 to 12.
“That’s tough for any team to play that many games back to back with no rest,” Stahl said. “Especially that early in the season, playing six games in a row is pretty tough. The good thing about it, they’ve conditioned hard this year, and they’re ready.”
The Olympians will look to contend for Hoosier Hills Conference and sectional titles this season.
“We hope to be over .500 this year,” Stahl said. “That’s expected of us. We went to the finals in sectional last year, and we hope to do the same and at least give it a good shot. Conference is something you always strive for.
“The good thing about this team is, they’re believers,” he said. “They believe that they can.”