As Tom Joseph enters his third season as head coach of the Bridgeport girls' softball team, it will be his first without a veteran pitcher.
However, Joseph has seven of his nine starters back from a year ago, which should help alleviate some of the early-season jitters the Bulldogs may have.
"We have a very young, but talented team," Joseph said. "We will be trying to build on the positives from last year. We have seven starters back, with five of them only being sophomores."
PICTURED ARE the key returnees for the Bridgeport softball team. Front row, from left, are Alexis Wilson, Brianna Cross, Dakota Dobrzynski and Julie Nowakowski. Back row, from left, are Brianna Masters, Dustyne Cargnel, Amber Millard, Peyton Stewart, Caitlyn Kroll and Keri Renzler.
That talented sophomore class represents nearly half of the 18-member roster. Rounding out the unit are a trio of seniors, three freshmen and a pair of juniors.
Leading the list of returnees are juniors Keri Renzler (C/SS) and Julie Nowakowski (2B/3B) and sophomores Caitlin Kroll (SS/3B) and Dustyne Cargnel (CF). Renzler and Nowakowski are already 2-year letterwinners.
Kroll, who just completed a fine season on the hardwood for the state-ranked Lady Bulldogs, hit .484 last season. She also stole 23 bases while earning second team all-OVAC. Renzler, who has battled injuries, batted .400, while Cargnel hit .375 and swiped 29 bases as an honorable mention all-OVAC selection. Nowakowski batted .306 and is a steady infielder.
Of the three seniors, two are 4-year letterwinners, those being Amber Millard (1B/OF) and Peyton Stewart (LF). The other senior is Martina Scalera (OF).
In addition to Kroll and Cargnel, the remaining sophomores include Chelsea Burch (OF), Bri Cross (3B), Dakota Dobrynski (RF), Bri Masters (1B/P), Kelli Mattern (OF), Faith Pritt (OF), Justin Schell (3B/C) and Alexis Wilson (OF). Cross, Dobrynski, Masters and Wilson saw action last year, while Schell is a transfer from Martins Ferry.
The freshmen are Miranda Bowers (P/INF), Josie Bugaj (OF) and Morgan Eddy (OF). Bowers is expected to take over inside the circle for graduated 4-year starter Ashley Hadzima.
In addition to Hadzima, the Bulldogs also lost 4-year letterwinner Emily Nowakowski and Kallie Myers. Hadzima hit .403 with four home runs, eight doubles and eight triples. She also comprised a nifty 1.88 ERA. Nowakowski also hit .306.
"Besides our returning seven starters, we have excellent team speed, especially with Kroll and Cargnell," Joseph noted. "We will definitely try and utilize our speed to its fullest."
Bridgeport will play the same schedule as in years past.
Joseph is assisted by Kayla Amedro and Cody Bishop.
The Bulldogs open up Saturday at Conotton Valley.
March 29 - at Conotton Valley (DH), 1 p.m.; March 31 - Martins Ferry; April 2 - Barnesville; April 3 - at Linsly; April 4 - at Madonna; April 5 - Cameron (DH), Noon; April 7 - Bishop Donahue; April 8 - at Bellaire; April 9 - at Barnesville; April 10 - Union Local; April 14 - at Toronto; April 15 - Shadyside; April 16 - Madonna; April 19 - Paden City (DH), Noon; April 21 - at Shadyside; April 22 - Linsly; April 23 - Beallsville; April 24 - at Bishop Donahue; May 1 - at Beallsville; May 5 - at Martins Ferry; May 6 - Toronto; May 8 - Bellaire