Senior staff writer
This year’s high school softball season promises to be even more competitive than the 2014 campaign, when four Southside teams were ranked among the top 20 teams in the state and Lutheran brought home a sectional championship.
Gone from the diamond are graduates Brittany Gray (0.44 earned run average, fifth in the state) of Greenwood, who attends the University of Alabama, Roncalli’s Emily Prather, Center Grove’s Sarah Thompson, Franklin Central’s Tori Lester and Perry Meridian’s Abbey Ketchem.
Those schools have plenty of key returnees who should keep them in the 4A polls, and Class A Lutheran on the prowl for another sectional crown.
The talent level is high on the Southside with an abundance of returning .400-plus hitters and solid pitching, especially at Franklin Central, where all of the team’s hurlers are back.
Center Grove, Franklin Central and Greenwood are in the 4A Franklin Sectional again. Last year Franklin Central opened sectional play with a 16-inning 4-2 triumph over Greenwood in a battle between the state’s top two teams.
Veteran coach Dave Gandolph’s Trojans hit .348 last year with junior Delainey Turner collecting 43 hits and M. Dallas hitting seven home runs. Senior Abbey Pratt (11-5, 1.76 ERA) and junior Taylor Hammill (7-2) were leaders on the mound.
The Trojans also had an impressive ERA of 2.22. They were 20-8 but did not escape from arguably the state’s toughest 4A sectional with a rare first-game loss.
Longtime Franklin Central mentor Kathy Striker, who has 540 wins, is back for her 36th season after a 22-4 campaign.
FC’s returning hitters accounted for 19 of the team’s 20 home runs. Juniors Delaney Thompson hit .426, Taylor Wilson led with 26 hits, Dani Wise had 23 hits. The pitching staff is strong with juniors Shelby Herron, 13-1, 0.82 ERA; Wise, 1.75 ERA; and Mackenzie Harris, 2.24 ERA.
Greenwood, even without Gray, easily could be a threat in the Mid-State Conference and sectional play. The Woodmen won 22 games last season. Megan Overton, 2.02 ERA, takes over on the mound. The team has strength at the plate with Overton, .437, 31 hits, 22 runs; senior Morgan Renfro (.364) and Paige Wilson (.356).
Perennial dark horse Perry Meridian looms dangerously again after a 14-9 season.
Southport was 9-16 but has solid pitching with Brooke Lightfoot, five wins, and Haleigh Keen, three wins.
Roncalli, after 20 wins and hitting .339, fell to Lawrence Central in a sectional semifinal. Coach David Lauck has heavy hitters in seniors Mallory Marsicek (.409, 27 hits, 21 RBIs), Olivia Hoffman (.386, 27 hits) and Taylor Shull (.358, 28 hits).
Beech Grove, which hit .336 in 2014, has power at the plate with junior Haylee Wolf (.520) and seniors Kimberly White (.513) and McKenzie Marschke (.397).
Lutheran entered the sectional last year with a losing record but finished 12-11. Sophomore Kimmie Kuehr hit .418 and had a 2.57 ERA. Junior Blakelee Steeb had a 1.78 ERA.
Greenwood Christian Academy
Greenwood Christian Academy has all its players back after making its softball debut last season.
Manual hopes to rebound after enduring a winless season.
The season opens today with Perry Meridian at Ben Davis; Thursday, Franklin Central at Decatur Central, Guerin Catholic at Lutheran, Deaf School at Manual; March 31, Cathedral at Southport, Roncalli at Ritter; April 3, Center Grove at Pendleton Heights; April 6, Indian Creek at Greenwood; April 7, Cascade at Beech Grove; and April 10, Marshall at Greenwood Christian Academy.
Franklin Central visits Roncalli in a Southside showdown April 7.