When this year’s Jennings County seniors were freshmen, the Panthers made a run to the state’s final four in Class 4A.
Veteran coach Kendall Wildey thinks his team has the talent to get back to that level. But he knows it will take some good fortune to go along with it.
“You have to be good, and you have to be lucky,” Wildey said. “We feel like we’re good enough. If we can improve, we have a chance to go back. But you have to avoid injuries, as well.”
The Panthers have seven starters back from a team that went 23-7 and finished second in Hoosier Hills Conference.
Back to lead the way is junior Lisa McIntosh, who went 16-2 with an 0.91 ERA in earning The Republic Athlete of the Year for Softball and third-team All-State honors.
“Pitching is such a big part of the game, so having her back is huge for us,” Wildey said. “She’s a hitter, she’s quick as can be on the bases, and she’s a good outfielder, as well. She’s very important to us.”
Jennings returns its entire infield with sophomore Maddy Hovious at first, senior twins Morgan and Lauren Klosterman at second and third and junior Dani Kirchner at short. Sophomore Hannah Castor in left and senior Jennifer Brewer in center also are back.
Junior Brittany Bonesteel returns at catcher, where she is battling with sophomore Baylee Krueger, who missed last season with a torn ACL, and freshman Kaylin Klosterman. Freshmen Kyndyl Olds and Ashleigh Donnell are vying for outfield spots, along with senior Annie Plofkin.
Donnell and sophomore Natalie Plofkin will be the team’s No. 2 and 3 pitchers.
The Jets have lofty goals after going 15-9 and falling to Rising Sun in the sectional semifinals.
“We want to make a run at the (Mid-Hoosier) conference,” Hauser coach Craig Sims said. “That may be tougher to win than the sectional or the regional. If we can win sectional, the regional would be between (Indianapolis) Lutheran and Edinburgh, so I feel like that would be very winnable. We’re going to have a pretty decent team.”
The Jets are led by senior Bree Lange, who pitched every game last year and had a 2.41 ERA. Lange has signed to play at St. Mary of the Woods.
Sophomore Ellie Trotter returns at catcher, and junior Erynn Shaw is back at first. Freshmen Leslie Sims and Paige Miller step in at short and third, and senior Miryka Teltoe will be in left.
Sophomore Sarah Anderson and freshman Abby Kidwell each could play second or center field. Freshmen Mallory Jordan and Lucie Lortz are battling in right.
“We’re a lot better, and we’re going to continue to get better,” Craig Sims said. “We have a lot of kids coming up that have played travel ball for me for a lot of years. We have five freshmen coming in that are going to be big contributors.
“We have a pretty tough schedule,” he said. “We play Jennings County, Columbus North and Brown County. That’s three tough 4A and 3A teams, but when you play teams like that, it makes you better.”
The Eagles will look for an outright Western Indiana Conference crown after sharing the title with Edgewood and Northview last season.
Both ace pitchers are back from a team that went 20-6 in seniors Tayler McDonald and Courtney Johnson. Sophomore Breanna Harper and junior Sarah Southerland provide depth.
“With the pitching we have, we’re going to be in every game,” Brown County coach Ron McDonald said. “We’re very young this year. If we grow up through the year, we’re going to be very good.”
McDonald plays short when she isn’t pitching, and Johnson plays first or third. Harper plays second and third, and sophomore Cheyenne Ellis can play at short, third and the outfield.
Southerland returns in left. Freshman Rachael Smith will play center, and sophomore Dakota Anderson will be in right. Freshman Olivia Miller and junior Ashley Walsh are vying for the catching job.
“We lost a lot of our experience with our seniors, but we traded that for speed,” Ron McDonald said. “We’re very fast this year. A lot of our girls are very versatile. We’ll be able to use them at different positions.”
The Lancers lost their starting battery, as well as their coach, from last year’s 15-8 squad.
Senior Jennifer Stinson and sophomore Courtney Woodall saw some pitching action last season and will be joined by freshman Sidney Giles. Junior Marissa Whitis will step in at catcher.
Stinson returns at first, and senior Courtney Schlotter will play there when Stinson is pitching. Woodall plays short when she isn’t pitching and will be flanked by sophomore Marah Percifield at second and Scholotter or freshman Kayli Littiken at third.
Percifield or Giles will be in left. Senior Autumne Burton and sophomore Mariah Brown return in center and right.
“We have a very talented young group of hard workers,” new coach Ashley Burton said. “They come in every day and work hard, and they’re improving, and that’s what I ask for.”
The Cougars return six starters from a team that went 10-13.
Junior pitcher Elizabeth Hedger went 8-9 last season. Sophomore Brittany Koors is back at catcher, and juniors Ashley Johannigman, Courtney Billingsley and Julia Miller return at first, second and third. Senior Rayann Noble moves from right to short.
Sophomores Sydney Callahan and Haleigh Haining, juniors Clarissa Baltus and Taylor Noble and freshmen Morgan Eden and Kaitlyn Brewer are battling for the outfield spots.
“We have some people back, but we have some big shoes to fill,” South Decatur coach Lisa Huff said. “We’re wanting to improve on our record and be a contender in our conference. The sectional is a little tough with Rising Sun, but we have a good group of girls that want to learn and, hopefully, we’ll have a good season.”
The Cougars lost only one player from last year’s 9-14 squad.
Sophomores Kaitlyn Wright and Liz Hill formed the team’s battery. Senior Hannah Barker and Miranda Dixon return at first and third, as does junior Brianna Sons at short.
Seniors Emily Currao and Haley Keith are back in center and right, and junior Mandan Langley returns to left, but could move to right. Freshman Taylor Reynolds could play anywhere on the field, and freshman Haylee Barker could play infield or outfield.
“Some of our incoming freshmen are going to play big roles on this year’s team,” first-year coach Tom Barker said. “Some of these girls coming in are really good ballplayers. We actually have some travel ballplayers, which will help out the team.”
The Owls return seven starters from a team that went 10-16 last season.
Back to lead the way is senior Logan Personett, who played third, short and the outfield last season and likely will be at third this year. The Marian signee hit .602 last season in earning second-team All-State honors.
Junior Gemma Challlies and senior Abby Morrow shared the pitching duties, and sophomore Shelby Stephens returns at catcher. Junior Devon Joray and senior Kelsey Nolting are back at second and short.
Challies plays left when she isn’t pitching, and sophomore Macy Hall could play there. Seniors Abby Thompson and Nikki Clevenger return in center and right. Sophomore utility player Emily Bobb also saw plenty of action last season and can play anywhere.
“I think our pitching has gotten better,” Seymour coach Brian Personett said. “I think we’re going to be able to hit. I think we’re going to be able to score. We played a lot of young kids last year, and all those kids are a year older and more mature now. We’re looking forward to a good year.”