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The area team that finished the strongest in the Division I state tournament a year ago is also the team to beat this year in the softball-rich Northern Lakes League.
With seven returning starters, including one of the area s top pitchers, Springfield may again prove to be northwest Ohio s top team in tournament play.
Eighth-year coach Rob Gwozdz guided the Blue Devils (21-7, 10-4 NLL last year) to a third-place finish a year ago. More importantly, Springfield reached the regional final, beating City League champion St. Ursula 5-1 in the semifinal before losing 2-0 to eventual state runner-up Elyria.
Returning to lead the Devils isjunior pitcher Ashlyn Michalak (16-6, 1.31 ERA, 137 strikeouts), and she is backed by a good-hitting core of six additional returning starters.
That group includes junior first baseman Krista Haley (.393 average, 5 home runs, 33 RBIs), who earned All-NLL first team and All-Ohio second team, and senior third baseman Lindsay Bandeen (.427), ALL-NLL first team.
Also back are juniors Brittany Richberg (SS, .408), Jesse Zappone (2B, .383) and Fayth Atkins (C), and sophomore Cailyn Cordrey (LF). The Blue Devils, who got off to an 8-0 start this season, are seeking their first NLL title since 2005, when they went 24-5, 11-3 and reached the regional semifinals.
Getting to the regional final last year put a lot of excitement into these kids and they worked really hard in the offseason hitting, lifting and conditioning, Gwozdz said. The program s in great shape, and now we have some high expectations and we re playing well.
As a pitcher, Ashlyn s as good as it gets, not only in this area but in Ohio. We feel she can keep us in every game and, with the talent we have around her, we feel if we score a couple runs in any game we should win a lot of games.
Springfield will first have to dethrone defending NLL champion Anthony Wayne (20-5, 12-1), and that won t be easy as third-year coach Mark Hamann returns five starters.
Back are seniors Alyssa Hoot (SS) and Jen Marzec (C), juniors Dani Haley (P, .313 batting average) and Steph Baker (OF-C), and sophomore Emily Kurfis (P-1B). The top newcomer may be sophomore Sara Bores (OF).
We ll compete and see how it shakes out, Hamann said. We re going to have to be able to put runs across against good pitching from the best teams in the area. We are always going to be hanging around in games.
Perrysburg (18-8, 10-4) will count on six returnees, including seniors Kaylee Levans (OF-DP), Jamie Winzler (LF) and Megan Quimby (1B), and juniors Kim Bryson (P, 16-7, 0.33 ERA, 289 strikeouts in 150 innings), who was a first-team All-NLL pick in 2008, Lorianne Levans (2B) and Stephanie Messenger (C, .352).
It s going to take them time to gel and draw together as a team, fourth-year coach Gary Godwin said. We believe they re going to do that. There s plenty of talent here.
Southview (23-6, 11-3) returns five starters from its NLL and D-I district runner-up team, and that group includes senior twins Amanda Schuster (1B-2B) and Shelby Schuster (C, .329), juniors Amber Dunlap (CF) and Carly Damman (RF, .379), and sophomore Olivia O Reilly (1B-P, .325). Damman and Shelby Schuster were each All-NLL second team.
The most notable loss is graduated pitcher Brooke Gates (17-4, 1.11 ERA, .427 average, 6 HR, 26 RBIs).
We lost some big contributors, and right now we re looking for the younger players to step up, said fourth-year coach Ryan DeMars. We re looking to get better and compete and be in every game, and we need our returning players to play at or above the level they played at last year. If they do, we ll be a very good team.
Maumee (11-17, 5-9) has made strides under third-year coach Jim Hall, who previously guided Bowsher to a City League championship in 2002, and the Panthers appear poised to climb further after a 6-1 start to the 2009 season.
Seven starters return, including senior captains Meredith Stanford (P-3B, .306 average, 10-14 record, 3.22 ERA) and Sam Robinson (C), junior Tabitha Britt (RF), and sophomores Becky Hayes (3B-C), Katie Butler (1B), Mareesha Scott (CF) and Bre Wojnarowski (SS). Stanford was All-NLL first team last year, and Butler was a second-team pick.
We re looking to bust into the top four and to be competitive with all of those teams, Hall said. The key starts with our pitching and then relying on our technique and our focus. We ve got some talent and we ve got more coming up. We re starting to see some results from our [Maumee Thunder] travel program.
Northview (9-19, 4-10) has struggled early on this season under 10th-year coach Rick Schneider, getting off to a 1-7 start. But Schneider hopes his four returning starters seniors Bekka Apardian (SS) and Ali Sayre (P-1B, 4-8 record, 2.78 ERA), junior Aly Matthews (1B-P) and sophomore Ashley Yeager (OF-IF) can lead a turnaround in time for NLL play. Apardian was named all-league second team in 2008.
I had some high hopes because we have some good young players, Schneider said. But we re making a lot of mistakes right now, mentally and physically. They just have to let the game come to them. They just need to get a little more experience and they re learning as they go.
At Bowling Green (8-18, 3-11), fourth-year Bobcats coach Erin Schneider is confident her team, which has eight returning starters, will improve.
Back are seniors Tayler Worthington (2B), a All-NLL first-team player who led the league in batting last year at .519, Brittany Davis (C, .309), Kara Bihn (3B), Bethany Stalter (OF) and Kalin Kale (OF), juniors Amy Cress (OF) and Megan LeGalley (1B), and sophomore Becca Ruehl (SS). Schneider credits her team s offseason work for improved hitting. Through six games (3-3 start) they are hitting over .300 as a team after a final team mark of .239 in 2008.
We have a real positive outlook this year, Schneider said. We re already seeing positive things and it s a different team. They have some goals they re working on and they know where they want to be.
With its seven returning starters, Rossford (7-21, 0-14) is a lock to improve on its disappointing finish of 2008, especially after opening this season at 6-0. Back are seniors Anne Yenrick (1B), Ashley Williams (SS, .333), Kara Sattler (CF, .368), Crystal Briggs (C) and Kara Stahl (P), and juniors Darian Kusz (3B) and Jordan Gauthier (LF).
Additional help comes fromseniors Liz Balla (2B) andCatherine Haskins (OF).
I m hoping we re at least competing in the upper half of the league at the end of the year, and make a good [Division III] tournament run, said eighth-year coach Tom Kralovic, whose team reached the regional final in 2007.
Contact Steve Junga at:email@example.com 419-724-6461.