MOUNT VERNON — High school softball season is here, and Knox County’s five teams enter the 2021-22 campaign with promise and potential.
Danville and Mount Vernon will look to repeat as district champions, albeit with different levels of experience returning: the Blue Devils will welcome back eight starters from last year’s regional semifinal team, while the Yellow Jackets will bring back one.
Fredericktown will look to challenge for a Knox-Morrow Athletic Conference crown, bringing back seven starters from last year’s third-place team. Centerburg and East Knox, meanwhile, will look to climb the conference ladder, with both squads returning several all-KMAC honorees from the year before.
The county will feature two new head coaches this spring: Jake Ulrey at East Knox, and Jeff Keener at Fredericktown. The regular season began March 26 and will continue through early May.
Here’s what to expect from each team:
Record last year: 13-15 (5-9 in the KMAC)
Conference finish: Tied for fifth in the KMAC
Tournament finish: Lost in the district quarterfinals to Marion Elgin, 3-2. Trojans were seeded 10th in the Division III Central District, Comets were seeded third. Centerburg beat 11th-seeded Milford Center Fairbanks in the first round, 6-2.
Who graduated: Amelia Smith, IF (first-team all-KMAC)
Who’s back: The Trojans will welcome back nine varsity letter-winners and five starters from last year’s team. The varsity roster will include three seniors, six juniors, seven sophomores and five freshmen. Among the key returners:
- Kaitlyn Tenzos, senior 3B | Tenzos earned second-team all-KMAC honors last season. (Stats unavailable)
- Shelby Morris, junior P | Morris earned honorable mention all-KMAC honors last season.
- Allie Beekman, senior 1B | Beekman returns with three years of varsity experience.
- Chloe Goulter, senior OF | Goulter earned second-team all-KMAC honors her freshman year (her sophomore season was canceled due to the pandemic, and she ran track as a junior).
Coach’s quote: “My expectations are that we finish in the top three in the KMAC and top five in the district,” fifth-year head coach Tim Rioux said.
Danville Blue Devils
Record last year: 20-8 (9-5 in the KMAC)
Conference finish: Tied for third in the KMAC
Tournament finish: Lost in the regional semifinals to Newark Catholic, 11-10. The Blue Devils won their sixth straight district title last spring and were one of 16 Division IV teams remaining statewide.
Who graduated: Maddy Wine, P (first-team all-KMAC, Central District Player of the Year, first-team all-Ohio)
Who’s back: The Blue Devils will welcome back 11 varsity letter-winners and eight starters from last year’s district title team. The varsity roster will include two seniors, four juniors, seven sophomores and three freshman. Among the key returners:
- Keaura Shilling, senior 2B | Shilling earned honorable mention all-KMAC honors last season. She batted .380, scoring a team-high 41 runs and stealing 19 bases.
- Camie Newbold, senior 1B/3B | Newbold batted .274 last year, tallying 4 home runs and 26 RBI.
- Taryn Mickley, junior SS | Mickley earned first-team all-KMAC honors last season. She led the team with 6 home runs, while ranking second in batting average (.449), hits (44), RBI (41) and runs scored (38).
- Jaylyn Smith, sophomore OF | Smith earned second-team all-KMAC honors last year. She led Danville with 27 stolen bases, while ranking third in batting average (.400), hits (40) and runs (38).
- Grace Gronberg, sophomore P/1B | Gronberg served as a solid counter-punch to Wine on the circle last year, boasting a 1.5 ERA through 60 innings pitched. She struck out 68 batters and walked 28, finishing with a 7-2 record in 13 appearances. At the plate, Gronberg batted .322, notching 4 home runs and 20 RBI.
Coach’s quote: “We have high expectations with many young girls gaining valuable experience last year. They all had a chance to be a part of a 20-win season,” second-year head coach Charlie Duncan said.
“It’s a new season and we need to leave our mark because teams don’t stay the same, they either fail to live up to expectations or they become even greater. Things that came easy last year will not be so easy this season. We have to stay consistent and grind everyday.”
East Knox Bulldogs
Record last year: 8-14 (5-9 in the KMAC)
Conference finish: Tied for fifth in the KMAC
Tournament finish: Lost in the district semifinals to Danville, 8-7. Bulldogs were seeded ninth in the Division IV Central District, Blue Devils were seeded first. East Knox beat 18-seed Wellington in the quarterfinals, 22-0.
Who graduated: Cami Bailey, P (first-team all-KMAC)
Who’s back: The Bulldogs will welcome back nine varsity letter-winners and eight starters from last year’s team. Among the key returners:
- Natalie Smith, junior IF | Smith earned first-team all-KMAC honors last season. (Stats unavailable)
- Shanda Melick, junior IF | Melick earned second-team all-KMAC honors last season.
- Nataley Hull, senior OF | Hull earned honorable mention all-KMAC honors last season.
- Anjel Montgomery, senior OF | Montgomery served as a key component to last year’s success and will provide senior leadership this season alongside Hull.
Coach’s quote: “(Our goal is to) win at the mental aspect of softball,” first-year head coach Jake Ulrey said. “Limit physical mistakes and you give yourself a chance to win at the end.”
Record last year: 15-12 (9-5 in the KMAC)
Conference finish: Tied for third in the KMAC
Tournament finish: Lost in the district semifinals to West Jefferson, 1-0. Freddies were seeded ninth in the Division III Central District, Roughriders were seeded fifth. Fredericktown beat seventh-seeded Marion Pleasant in the quarterfinals, 9-4.
Who graduated: Alyssa Perkins, P (first-team all-KMAC); Tayler Overholt, OF (second-team all-KMAC); Sydney Sansom, C/IF (second-team all-KMAC)
Who’s back: The Freddies will welcome back nine varsity letter-winners and seven starters from last year’s team. The varsity roster will include seven seniors and five sophomores. Among the key returners:
- Miranda Payne, sophomore P | Payne earned honorable mention all-KMAC honors last season. She struck out 105 batters during her freshman campaign, while also proving effective from the plate, batting .338 with 11 RBI.
- Lainy Partington, senior OF | Partington batted .364 last year with 20 RBI.
- Emma Hatfield, senior 3B/C | Hatfield batted .308 last year with 14 RBI.
- Jesenia Montalvo, sophomore SS | Montalvo batted .351 last year with 11 RBI.
Coach’s quote: “Expectations for this year are defensive consistency and do the ‘little things,'” first-year head coach Jeff Keener said. “Defensively we have to get three outs an inning and not give teams four, five, or six outs. We have to step up and make plays for each starting pitcher if we want to win softball games.”
Mount Vernon Yellow Jackets
Record last year: 24-5 (12-0 in the Ohio Cardinal Conference)
Conference finish: First in the OCC (fourth straight OCC title)
Tournament finish: Lost in the regional semifinals to Pickerington Central, 6-2. The Yellow Jackets won their third district title in four seasons last spring and were one of 16 Division I teams remaining statewide.
Who graduated: Emma Jones, P (OCC Pitcher of the Year, first-team all-Ohio); Brooke Radermacher, C (OCC Player of the Year, honorable mention all-Ohio); Layne Cook, OF (first-team all-OCC); Maddy Burdette, IF (second-team all-OCC); Carlena Fiorilli, OF (second-team all-OCC); Mollie Pentz, IF (second-team all-OCC); Alanta Spurgeon, IF (honorable mention all-OCC); Rae Straight, IF (honorable mention all-OCC)
Who’s back: The Yellow Jackets will welcome back six varsity letter-winners and one starter from last year’s district title team. The varsity roster will include nine seniors, three juniors and one sophomore. Among the key returners:
- Mac Schlosser, senior SS | Schlosser, a first-team all-OCC selection, is the lone returning full-time starter from last year’s district championship team. She served as one of the team’s top batters and defenders, hitting .536 with 45 hits, 8 doubles, 6 home runs and 39 RBI, while also recording just 1 error at third base. She tied Ohio’s single-game RBI record on March 31, 2021, when she recorded 13 in a win over Ashland.
- Seniors Lilly Erb, Addison Christopher, Rhyli Pope, Emma Calkins and Kelly Sullins will all return with varsity experience.
Coach’s quote: “This team has a lot of individual softball experience under their belt, but not at the varsity level or as a group. This team has already shown they will get better the more we play together,” said second-year head coach Ryan Pentz, who was named OCC Coach of the Year in 2021.
“This team provides some excellent pop in their bats and they can put up some big numbers offensively this year. Defensively, Rhyli Pope and Emily Burke take over in the circle. They compliment each other very well as they are two different style of pitchers.”
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