With 10 returning letterwinners, Barnesville High's third-year softball coach Leslie Skinner is expecting the Lady Shamrocks to have a breakout season this spring.
"We have 10 returning letterwinners that have been playing together for two years at the varsity level," Skinner pointed out. "We fully expect them to have a breakout season this year and our expectations are high. We expect to reach the OVAC Tournament (top four), which is something we haven't done since 2011.
"Our expectations were high last year," she added, "but we were still a bit young. We feel the girls have really worked hard this summer and this spring. We can see that they finally are seeing what we see in them and are beginning to believe in their abilities and when you do that, it's nothing but positive."
Skinner lost two to graduation from a team that finished 6-18 last year. The two players lost to graduation were pitcher Avery Hanlon and right fielder/designated hitter Katie Jackson. Hanlon was named first team all-Eastern District and second team all-OVAC Class 3A and participated in the Eastern District All-Star Game.
Replacing Hanlon in the circle will be a big task, but Skinner believes she has three girls ready to step into that role in addition to a couple of freshmen who are also working on pitching.
Junior letterwinner Chloe Campbell is one of the pitching candidates with the others being sophomore letterwinner Erin Hannahs and freshman Regan Hanlon, sister of Avery.
Skinner returns just three senior letterwinners in Samantha Arigoni (outfielder), Brianna Bohandy (infielder/outfielder) and Abby Gibbons (infielder).
Virtually everyone returns to their fielding position, but the Lady 'Rocks have to cut down on the number of errors if they are to live up to Skinner's expectations.
"In the past, we had a tendency to toss the ball around unnecessarily which resulted in 8-to-10 errors a game," the coach pointed out. "You can't do that and expect to win. We lost a good deal of close games where one error gave up the lead. We have been working hard this spring to cut down on those errors.
"If we can do that and keep our pitchers' arms fresh," she added, "we will be successful. In the past few years, we really relied on Avery to carry the pitching load for us. This season, we have a staff of five pitchers who have been working hard. We are confident that will be a positive for us."
Seven junior letterwinners return along with one sophomore who lettered last year as a freshman.
Junior award winners back are Campbell (pitcher/infielder), Baylie MacMillan (catcher), Hunter Miller (infielder), Sarah Powell (infielder/outfielder), Candace Schneider (outfielder), Astin Skinner (infielder/outfielder) and Abby Starr (catcher/infielder).
The lone sophomore letterwinner is Hannahs, who will pitch or play infield.
Other sophomores include Lindsey Burkhart (infielder), Savanna Finnical (infielder), Kalie Grear (infielder), Jessica Johnson (catcher), Sydney Leach (infielder) and Shaelyn Showalter (outfielder). Powell was tabbed to first team honors on both the all-Eastern District and all-OVAC Class 3A teams while Starr and Miller were named to the second team on the all-Eastern District team.
Skinner expects the power at the plate to come from the senior Gibbons, who hit at a .264 clip last year; the juniors Powell, MacMillan and Miller; and the sophomore Hannahs. Powell batted a nifty .406 a year ago while MacMillan was at .342, Miller at .295 and Hannahs at .333.
"Our team batting average last year was just .285," Skinner stated, "and I am hoping to get that up to the .325 range this year. We have worked hard on these two areas (fielding and hitting). We have a strategy change with the lineup and hope to get people on base for our power hitters.
"Hannahs will probably lead off," she said, "followed by Skinner with Powell third. We hope to get some of them on for MacMillan, Miller and Gibbons to move around."
The six freshmen -- Madison Detling (pitcher/infielder), Regan Hanlon (pitcher), Bailey Leach (pitcher/infielder), Cayleigh Reynolds (outfielder), Mikaela West (infielder), Sydney Wise (catcher) -- will mostly see JV action with the exception of Hanlon, who is penciled in as a varsity pitcher. Delting and Leach are two freshmen pitchers could see varsity action at times.
Martins Ferry is new to the schedule with a doubleheader scheduled for home in late April.
Most of the varsity games will be played at Barnesville Memorial Park, with three games (April 3-15-20) slated for the Route 800 field.
"Our theme this year was taken from Pat Murphy at Alabama," Skinner stated. "It is #Mudita, which means be happy for everyone and everyone will be happy for you. We are stressing teamwork and I am looking forward to it. Everyone has worked hard to get ready for this year."
She will be assisted by Kevin Miller, who will handle the junior varsity squad, and Ted Hanlon, who is the pitching assistant.