The Buckeye Valley softball team couldn’t have asked for a much better season than the one it had last spring, finishing 22-6 with an undefeated league mark and the program’s first conference championship in 15 years.
Fortunately for the Barons, they have more than a few pieces from that squad back this time around. Unfortunately, though, three of last year’s key cogs are gone. Replacing Anika Craft at shortstop, Lexi Richardson at third base and Whitney Stuart in center will be key, BV coach John Stuart said.
“Anika and Lexi were two of the best infielders and hitters in the Central District last year, so finding replacements for them is my top priority,” Stuart said. “I think this year’s team has more talent across the board than last year’s team, but finding players to replace the three starters will be a challenge.”
One place the Barons don’t have to replace anyone is in the pitcher’s circle, where Liz Hamilton returns as the team’s ace. Hamilton was a first-team all-district and all-league selection a year ago, finishing 10-3 overall with a 1.24 ERA in 96 innings pitched. She collected 201 strikeouts while walking just 10.
“Liz is one of the Central District’s best pitchers,” Stuart said. “Her best pitch is the riseball … when she has that pitch working, you need a step ladder to hit it.”
She’ll be joined in the rotation by Lilly Irvine, Megan Beneke and Audrey Condit. Irvine was 4-1 with a 1.51 ERA in 27.2 innings pitched while Beneke and Condit started a game apiece.
Irvine, who recently signed with Division I Niagara, and Hamilton are just as good at the plate as they are in the circle, too. Irvine, the defending MSL-Ohio Player of the Year, hit .495 with nine home runs and 48 RBI last season. Hamilton had just 33 at-bats, but hit .545.
Other returners include Nina Peak (first base/third base), JoJo Fedoush (second base/catcher) and Courtney Beneke (right field). Peak, a three-year letter winner and all-conference selection, hit .341 with 24 RBI last year. She recently committed to Wilmington. Fedoush hit .279 with 14 RBI while Courtney Beneke hit .364 with 14 RBI.
Emily Huston and Taylor Williams, both one-year letter winners, will fill some holes in the outfield while junior Mackenzie Hughes (infield), sophomores Lauren Haunhorst (first base) and Mari DeFrances (catcher) and freshman Zoee Inglish (infield) round out the roster.
“This team will have a lot of moving parts compared to last year’s team,” Stuart said. “My best catcher (Irvine) is also my best shortstop and having a freshman (Inglish) on the roster poses some uniqueness when it comes to my coaching philosophy on playing time …I’ll never sit a freshman on the bench for extended periods of time because it can hurt their development, so finding places for her to succeed will be a priority.
“Megan Beneke is a very good hitter and also plays first base and pitches, so finding opportunities for her will be on the table. I think Emily Huston out in centerfield can be a huge asset for this team with her defense, speed and lead-off capabilities and Taylor Williams and Audrey Condit will be battling it out for left field.”
Stuart said his team is more than capable of repeating as MSL-Ohio champs, but every season has its own set of challenges.
“We should contend for a repeat title in the MSL with our eyes set on winning a district title,” he said. “Worthington Christian and Bexley are usually contending at the top of our MSL division. We’re excited for the upcoming season and the challenges it poses … we also know we have a target on us with the season we had last year.”