With one of the Ohio Valley's better pitcher's inside the circle and four other returning starters from a 17-9 squad, veteran Harrison Central girls' softball coach Donnie Bethel is expecting good things to happen this spring.
"We've got some excellent softball players returning from last year, and I believe we have some pretty good young talent," Bethel allowed. "Five of our starters are either freshmen or sophomores, but they are seasoned softball players who should not only contribute, but also have the skills to make plays.
"If we can stay healthy, we should be competitive, and hopefully, fun to watch because we've got some very good teams on our schedule."
PICTURED ARE the key returnees for the Harrison Central softball team. From left are Kara Dunfee, Paige Dunlap, Shianne Nameth, Katie Ellzy and Roni Caldwell.
The Huskies are in good shape in the pitching department as junior Katie Ellzy returns for her third season in the middle of the diamond. Already having verbaled to Robert Morris University, Ellzy not only does it with her strong right arm, but with the bat, as well.
She holds the Lady Huskies' all-time home run mark and hit a robust .463 last season while sharing the OVAC Class 4A Player of the Year award. She cracked out a school-record 37 base hits, including four longballs, while driving in 31 runs. She also scored 24.
On the mound, she had an ERA of 1.66 and struck out 175 in 160 innings.
"With Katie on the mound, our strength will be our pitching," Bethel said.
Joining Ellzy as a returning starter are seniors Roni Caldwell (LF), Kara Dunfee (3B) and Paige Dunlap (SS), along with sophomore Shianne Nameth (1B/P).
"Shianne hit .397 as a freshman and Kara has hit over .350 the last two years," Bethel noted. "Paige has also hit over .300 the last two years while also turning into one of the finest infielders in the OVAC. Caldwell is sold in the outfield."
Rounding out the varsity roster are senior Amber Cline (1B/OF); juniors Alexis Devernoe (OF); sophomores Emma Cline (OF/SS), Ashley Heavilin (RF), Joelle Jones (C), Paige Richards (CF) and Michala Saffell (C); and freshman Alexia Dowdle (2B/P).
"We should be solid defensively," Bethel added. "Our main weakness will be if we can hit under pressure. In our nine losses, eight of them were by a total of 10 runs. We struggled hitting with runners in scoring position. With five of our top six hitters returning - including our top three - we're hoping to improve on last year's performance, especially in big games."
Harrison Central is a member of the Buckeye 8, which is loaded with talent year-in and year-out.
"We will find out something about ourselves early on," Bethel continued. "We play Wheeling Park, Martins Ferry, Indian Creek and Buckeye Local on four consecutive days in the first week of the season.
"That's an extremely difficult start. Playing any two of those teams would make for a tough week."
Lost to graduation were Kiley Staley, Emily Dodds, Katie Parkinson, Jessica Custer and Hannah Edwards. Staley was a 3-year performer who was all-Buckeye 8 and all-district as a second baseman, while Dodds was a 2-year letterwinner.
Bethel, who is 147-98 during his tenure at the Cadiz-based school, is assisted by Joe Valesko and Ed Jackson (stats).
The reserve coaches are Sarah Hawthorne and Bill Wilden.
The complete 2014 schedule is as follows:
March 29 - Meadowbrook (DH), Noon; April 1 - Wheeling Park; April 2 - at Martins Ferry; April 3 - Indian Creek; April 4 - Buckeye Local; April 5 - at Beaver Local (DH), Noon; April 7 - at Buckeye Local; April 9 - at Union Local; April 10 - at Oak Glen; April 11 - Union Local; April 14 - at Indian Creek; April 15 - at Edison; April 17 - at Steubenville Catholic, Noon; April 19 - Buckeye Trail (DH), Noon; April 22 - Martins Ferry; April 24 - at Wheeling Park; April 25 - St. Clairsville; April 26 - at Weir (DH), Noon; April 28 - at St. Clairsville; May 5 - Bellaire; May 8 - Steubenville Catholic.