Having crafted a successful coaching career among the summer fastpitch ranks, Bob Phelps has shown his touch can translate to prep softball as well.|
After capping a 56-10, three-year tenure at Sherrard High School and guiding the Tigers to the second state tournament appearance in its history, Phelps eagerly embarks on his newest challenge -- turning around the Erie-Prophetstown softball program.
First, he and his E-P players would like to actually open the season once the persistent wintry weather makes the transition to more springlike climes.
"The girls are getting a little stir-crazy being indoors," said Phelps, whose club made the most of its long-awaited opener by outslugging Lincoln Trail Conference contender Annawan-Wethersfield 10-9 in nine innings on Thursday.
Inheriting a Panther squad that finished 12-17 last spring and won just three of 14 Three Rivers Conference games, Phelps also is raring to prove a thing or two after not being rehired as Sherrard's head coach in the wake of last spring's 29-7 finish and fourth-place Class 2A state trophy.
Looking beyond the record, Phelps feels he has the pieces in order to build a team that can not only contend for the Panthers' first TRAC-9 softball crown but earn a piece of postseason hardware to go with the Class A regional plaque won by Erie-Prophetstown in 2000.
"We've really got a lot of good athletes," he said. "All of our pitchers are working hard. Our sophomore (Savannah Mettler), who gets lessons from me, has hit up to 60 miles per hour, and (freshman hurler) Kylie Ackerman also throws hard. We've got pitchers that are not going to put people on."
Phelps also has been pleased with how his newer players have mixed with E-P's seven returning letterwinners. The latter group is led by the senior trio of first baseman Amanda Bertolozzi, second baseman Jenna Forward (who homered in the win over A-W) and outfielder Stephanie Emery as well as junior third baseman/pitcher Kali Schroeder.
"It's a good mix with the newer kids and the older ones" said Phelps, who also has two more varsity-tested sophomores in outfielder Addie Morse and shortstop Clare Kramer.
"For the first time in a long time, we've got a lot of ASA kids out. It's a new program, a new coach and a new direction, and they're all buying into it. I think this could be a fun year."
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