Coming off its first trip to the district tournament, the St. Clairsville girls' softball team is expected to be a strong contender to repeat that performance this season.
Head coach Rachel Duncan only has 11 girls on her roster, but more than half of them were integral parts of last spring's 12-12 squad.
"We have really good senior leadership," Duncan explained as one of her team's strengths. "We should also have a solid defense and we had the luxury of having several power hitters."
PICTURED ARE the key returnees for the St. Clairsville softball team. Kneeling, from left, are Michaela Miller and Carlee Gillespie. Standing, from left, are Jolyn Shunk, Summer Gallentine, Mackenzi Otto and Lauren Figura.
It all begins in softball inside the circle, and the Red Devils have a pair of talented hurlers in senior Lauren Figura and junior Michaela Miller, both of whom saw extensive action last year.
"Our pitching should really be strong," Duncan noted. "Both Lauren and Michaela pitched well last year."
Figura earned honorable mention Division III all-state honors, as well as first team all-OVAC and all-Buckeye 8. She led the team with a nifty .493 batting average that included five home runs, a triple, six doubles and 25 singles to go along with 31 RBI. He slugging percentage was a whopping .800.
Miller, who pitched the 3-1 sectional final win over Harrison Central, who plays shortstop when Figura toes the rubber. Likewise, when Miller's inside the circle, Figura is at short.
Miller rapped 16 singles and five doubles last season that plated 10 runners.
Other returnees include seniors Carlee Gillespie and Summer Gallentine, along with juniors Mackenzi Otto and Ashley Baker.
Gillespie patrols centerfield and nothing gets in the gaps with the speedster stationed out there. She hit .359 last spring with 28 singles and five two-baggers.
Gallentine, who starts at second base, had a pair of roundtrippers for the Red Devils last season. She also has a good glove on defense.
Otto, the Red Devils' first baseman, fashioned a .293 batting average last season, while recording 11 singles, five doubles, a home run and seven ribbies.
Baker saw some action in the outfield last season and will be counted upon for some production this year.
Rounding out the roster are senior Summer Stephens (UT); and sophomores Kaley Garloch (C, INF), Kipra Rhodes (INF), Antonia Hummel (C, OF) and Jolyn Shunk (C, OF).
Of that group, only Shunk has varsity experience as she was the Red Devils' starting catcher last season. However, she suffered a serious knee injury playing soccer.
"We are still trying to fill our catcher's position," Duncan said. "Jolyn tore her ACL, but her goal is to be back in the game at some point this season.
"Offensively, we've got a good mix of power hitters and consistent contact hitters," Duncan continued. "Our team camaraderie will also be a big plus for us as we pursue a winning season."
Gone from last year's squad are Brianna Hummel, Alicia Avila, Krista Morrison and Paige Hashman.
Assisting Duncan are Rachel Ochsenbine, Gary Hull and Casey Callarik.
The Red Devils play the same schedule as last year. The complete schedule is as follows:
March 31 - at Union Local; April 1 - at Meadowbrook; April 2 - Union Local; April 4 - at Wheeling Park; April 5 - Magnolia (DH), Noon; April 7 - Indian Creek; April 8 - at Indian Creek; April 9 - at Edison; April 11 - at Barnesville; April 12 - West Muskingum (DH), Noon; April 14 - Bellaire; April 15 - Wheeling Park; April 17 - Buckeye Local; April 19 - Steubenville (DH), Noon; April 23 - at Ferry; April 24 - at St. John; April 25 - at Harrison; April 26 - at Cambridge; April 28 - Harrison; April 29 - Barnesville; May 6 - Martins Ferry.