The Buckeye Valley softball team has absolutely owned the MSL-Ohio Division the last few seasons, finishing undefeated in league play en route to back-to-back conference championships.
Despite losing six starters from last year’s squad, coach John Stuart doesn’t see why that can’t continue. The Barons are thinking bigger, though … just look at their schedule.
“We play seven Central District D-I schools,” he said, “along with playing D-II state runner-up Jonathan Alder, Lakewood twice, North Union and Highland. Our league has been down the last couple of seasons, so it’s a priority of mine to make sure we are playing quality teams throughout the season.”
Buckeye Valley played a similar schedule last spring, and thrived. The Barons, who compete in Division II, finished 18-3 with wins over the likes of Marysville (1-0) and Gahanna Lincoln (2-0), both of which went on to win Division I district titles.
All-everything pitcher Liz Hamilton, who has racked up a 21-5 record with 328 strikeouts in 160 innings over the course of the last two seasons, was in the circle for both of those wins. She’ll likely be a big part of any success this season, too, but the Barons will have to wait a bit to get her back as she’s been sidelined so far this spring with a shoulder injury.
“Our biggest strength, and also our biggest uncertainty, is our starting pitching,” Stuart said. “With Liz out, Audrey Condit will slide into the No. 1 spot with Hayden Allen backing her up until Liz comes back.”
The Barons will have to replace a slew of other starters as well — Lilly Irvine, Nina Peak, JoJo Fedoush and Courtnie Beneke all graduated and Taylor Williams, who hit .433 with 23 RBI, moved out of the school district.
Along with Hamilton and Condit, returners include Mack Hughes and Zoee Inglish. Hughes played shortstop a season ago, earning All-MSL honors after hitting .417 with 14 RBI. Inglish played second and hit .323 with six knocked in.
Other than that, the Barons will look a bit different this season.
“We’re very young and inexperienced,” Stuart said. “One of my biggest concerns entering the season was to find a reliable catcher to replace Lilly Irvine, who was all-state. Finding someone to play first, third and centerfield were next on my list. I’ve got quality girls to fill those positions, but not much experience.”
Stuart said Maddie Looney is slated to start at third, Hughes will return at shortstop and provide veteran leadership, Inglish will start at second and Lauren Haunhorst is competing with Mack Bertke for the first base job.
Mari DeFrances and Bri Upchurch are battling for starting catching duties while Sophia Richards (centerfield) and Kayleigh Cain (right field) should see plenty of time in the outfield.
Despite Hamilton’s injury and the new faces, the standard this spring remains the same.
“I’m not sure I would’ve scheduled as tough as I did knowing what I know now,” Stuart said in regard to Hamilton’s injury and the other unexpected losses. “But, we still want to play will against the D-I schools, which we did last year, and, as always, our goals are to win the MSL, win a district title and compete for a state championship.”