Posted Online: March 20, 2013, 12:31 am

Titans hope to be tops in crowded LTC softball race

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By Terry Duckett,

Several teams are expected to battle it out for Lincoln Trail Conference softball supremacy this spring.

Among those are the Annawan-Wethersfield Titans, who feel as if the 2013 prep season could be their time to realize their goal of conference gold.

After coming up short in pursuit of both of their '12 goals -- finishing third in the LTC race, then falling in the Class 1A regionals after taking a title in 2011 -- the Titans will come in with an edge.

"They definitely want to get back to a high level, and I think us falling short of our goals last year will fuel that a little bit,'' said Annawan-Wethersfield coach Jeremy Trill, who returns a solid mix of nine letterwinners anchored by the junior battery of three-year varsity starters Megan Foes and Celina VanHyfte.

Foes earned first team All-LTCpitching honors with her 17 wins to go with a .387 batting average and 21 RBIs, while VanHyfte's .633 average, 12 doubles, 9 homers, 47 RBIs and 33 stolen bases earned her first team All-State honors.

"If we play the way we're capable of playing day-in and day-out, we can definitely make a run for the (conference) title,'' said Trill."One of the keys will be everybody staying healthy, primarily Megan on the mound. The way she's thrown the last two years, that's a huge benefit, along with our younger kids coming through with some clutch play.''

But like many of his fellow conference coaches, Trill foresees 2013 being a tight race in the LTC, similar to last year, when Biggsville West Central's 14-2 record enabled it to edge out runner-up United (13-5 in the league) for the championship. A-W was third at 11-5, followed by ROWVA and Stark County with 11-7 LTC slates.

United, the 2011 Class 1A state champions, not only graduated two more key pieces of that team (Kelsey Crain and Megan Patterson) but lost their head coach when Gary Eyler resigned due to health concerns. Assistant Hannah Baker has stepped in to provide continuity.

"The thing in the LTC this year is that just about everybody has their nucleus back,'' said Baker, who returns such All-Conference standouts as senior shortstop/pitcher Michelle Ravel (.390, 9 doubles, 6 triples, 25 RBIs) and junior outfielder Brea Simkins (.388, 15 doubles, 32 RBIs) among her own nucleus of six returners.

"I think it's going to be tight this year; there'll be a lot of good battles. I'm happy to have some depth to work with. The work ethic is good, and several of these girls have experienced it (the '11 title run) and they know what they have to do.''

Looking to work its way up into the title picture is Mercer County, which played some of its best softball down the stretch last spring to finish at 14-16. Aledo graduate Cassidy Staker enters her second year as head coach with eight returners, led by senior outfielder Morgan Weeks (.451, 10 doubles, 26 runs) and junior catcher Jessica Brooks (.446, 23 doubles, 19 RBIs, 34 runs).

Pitching and defense will be the key for the Golden Eagles if they are to fly high in the LTC, with up-and-coming sophomore Bailey Swanson teaming with junior Michaela Baker in the circle.

"Bailey came in, held her own as a freshman and did a great job,'' said Staker. "She's only gotten stronger and better since last year, and has been able to build with the rest of my varsity group. Michaela and (freshman) Katie Weeks will also throw for us, which only adds to the variety of looks we can give other teams.

"Defense is the big key. We've got to be able to cut down on our mistakes after giving up too many runs that way last year. We didn't have the consistent defense we needed to back our offensive power.''

At Ridgewood, Lyndsey Jackson returns to the dugout after taking a year away to earn her master's degree in health. She now looks to turn things around and make the Spartans healthy again after a 2-27 finish in '12.

"We've got a good group of girls who want to be pushed to work hard and improve,'' said the former Orion standout. "They're definitely anxious to do a lot better. That desire to improve, I think, is going to be our biggest strength.''


Annawan-Wethersfield Titans
Jeremy Trill (8th year with A-W co-op; 11th year overall).
2012: 21-12 (11-5 LTC), lost 4-3 to Orion in the Class 1A Wethersfield Regional semifinals.
Returning letterwinners -- Sr.: Alysha Winn (2B), Caitlin Miller (OF), Emillie Wright (1B/OF), Sam Brody (OF), Mackenzie Shimmin (OF). Jr.: Megan Foes (P), Celina VanHyfte (C). Soph.: Kaila Dunfee (IF/P), Rachel Peterson (IF/OF).
Newcomers -- Fr.: Brooke Pyle (IF/OF), Kailyn Osborne (IF/OF), Morgan VanHyfte (SS/C).
Galva-Williamsfield Bombers
Coach: Darrin Peterson (2nd year).
2012: 5-20 (2-12 LTC; 0-5 ICAC), lost 2-0 to Stark County in the first round of the Class 1A Wethersfield Regional.
Returning letterwinners -- Sr.: Samantha Josephson (P/C), Nicole Withrow (2B). Jr.: Emma Corkill (P/1B), Lacy Peterson (C/1B), Melanie Edmonds (OF/P), Lindsay Franzoni (OF). Soph.: Rachel VanDeVelde (OF), Allison Hagerty (C/3B).
Newcomers -- Fr.: Makayla Wood (SS), Ali Quick (3B), Madison Stewart (P/OF).
Mercer County Golden Eagles
Coach: Cassidy Staker (2nd year).
2012: 14-16 (8-10 LTC), lost 11-1 to Sherrard in the Class 2A Sherrard Regional semifinals.
Returning letterwinners -- Sr.: Jordan Ruh (3B), Brooke Swanson (1B), Morgan Weeks (OF), Hannah Kirkhove (SS), Mackenzie Clawson (OF). Jr.: Jessica Brooks (C), Michaela Baker (P/2B). Soph.: Bailey Swanson (P/IF).
Newcomers -- Jr.: Kristin Heath (IF/OF), Kate Baugher (OF), Cayley Staker (1B), Ashley Christie (2B), Emilee Zimmerman (3B). Soph.: Hannah Terrill (OF). Fr.: Katie Weeks (P).
Ridgewood Spartans
Coach: Lyndsey Jackson (1st year; 5 total seasons with co-op).
2012: 2-27 (1-15 LTC), lost 10-2 to Orion in the first round of the Class 1A Wethersfield Regional.
Returning letterwinners -- Sr.: Madison Miller (3B), Brittney Atchison (OF), Maddie Morrison (IF). Jr.: Addison Barman (IF), Sabrina Medley (OF), Morgan Green (1B), Ashley Collins (P/IF).
Newcomers -- Jr.: Mary Koby (Utility), Felicia Shaw (Utility). Soph.: Samantha Roberts (C), Alyssa Wright (Utility). Fr.: Morgan Boone (P).
United Red Storm
Coach: Hannah Baker (1st year).
2012: 18-11 (13-5 LTC), lost 1-0 to Abingdon in the Class 1A United Regional semifinals.
Returning letterwinners -- Sr.: Michelle Ravel (SS/P), Alyson Keeney (1B), Cassandra Ellison (OF). Jr.: Brea Simkins (OF). Soph.: Maddie Ballard (3B), Abbey French (C).
Newcomers -- Sr.: Andi Hendrix (SS, transfer from Monmouth-Roseville). Soph.: MyKelti Mann (P). Fr.: Natalie Johnson (2B), Lauren Sperry (Utility).