The 2016 Lady Lions softball team comes into the season a little younger after graduating six seniors. Only four girls on the team were starters in the previous year. Southern Hills Athletic Conference Coach of the Year Mark Dettwiller returns in his third year at the helm of the program with Tom Purtell in his 22nd year as the assistant coach.
The Lady Lions are hoping to pick up up where they left off last year, going 18-4 and winning a sectional championship, and a district championship, finally getting beat out in the regional semi finals when they lost to the eventual state champs Shadyside.
The Lady Lions have 21 girls total across jayvee and varsity teams which will allow a 15-game junior varsity schedule.
The seniors that graduated last year included first team All-Ohio player Kaitlin Evans, All-District pitcher Arica Melson, All-District player Shaylee Carson, power hitter Justice Hattan who led the team with five homeruns, and cleanup hitter Heather Sanderson.
“There’s no replacing those girls. We just have to go out and do all the little things that have been successful in the past and keeping working hard. It’s going to be a process because we are so young. We have some hopes for some kids to maybe fill in those spots, but with it being so early in the year, we just don’t know exactly who they are yet. We have some holes to fill but we’re pleasantly surprised with how the younger girls are playing. How they’re stepping up and getting things done.
“The coaching staff has high hopes for the 2016 Fairfield Lady Lions,” said coaches Dettwiller and Purtell. “Twenty-one softball players have worked extremely hard in the offseason with their conditioning and in practice. They practice to be better everyday.”
“The Lady Lions will look to seniors Grace Larrick and Casey Carter for leadership roles this season. Grace is, in our opinion, the best defensive and offensive second baseman in not only the league, but the Southeast District. She was All SHAC and first team All-District last season and was chosen to represent us in the Southeast District Underclassman All Star game last June. Casey will move from designated player to first base. She will also supply power to the middle of our batting order.
“Junior Kourtnie Smith was also chose to be in the Southeast District All Star game and will do the bulk of the catching for us this season. Junior Shania Setty is the only returning pitcher from last year’s team and will also play in the outfield. Junior Sherry Heckathorn spent the 2015 season on the bench recovering from a knee surgery and will patrol centerfield.”
“The Conference looks to be strong again in 2016. In Division I. Eastern (Brown) appears to be healthy and will contend for the top spot. Look for a much improved Peebles team with a strong freshman class to contend for first place. Lynchburg Clay needs to fill a few spots, but will be right behind Eastern and Peebles. West Union and Ripley continue to battle every time on the field. In Division II, look for Fairfield, Whiteoak and Fayetteville to battle for the top spot. Fayetteville will be the only team of the three to field a veteran pitcher in sophomore Paige Vilvens. Us and Whiteoak will look to replace two outstanding pitchers in Arica Melson and Kiley Sosby, Sosby being the the Southeast District Player of the Year. North Adams will look to move up a spot should one of the top three stumble. North Adams has a very strong battery in All Ohio pitcher Jade Spriggs and All SHAC catcher Caitlin Young, but graduated five seniors. Manchester looks to be a year away from keeping up with the top teams in the league, but features one of the best all round female athletes in the SHAC in Morgan Johnson. There are no easy wins in Division II.
“We took maybe a week off after tournament and since then, we have been working hard as a team. We spent all winter working with pitcher and catchers and actually got into the batting cages and have been hitting all winter. Hopefully all of that will pay off this spring. Our goals are simple: win a Southern Hills Athletic Conference title, a Sectional Championship, and a Southeast District Championship. We expect to be in a position to win every game.”
The Fairfield Lady Lions will kick off their regular season this Saturday, March 26 on their home field when they host Adena High School for a double header starting at 11 a.m.
Reach Robert Stegbauer at 937-393-3456 ext. 1679 or on Twitter @RStegbauer.
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