MOUNT CARMEL — Four starters will return to the Mount Carmel softball team looking to lead the Lady Aces for the 2018 season.
“The team consists of three seniors, no juniors and the rest of them of freshmen and sophomores,” said Lady Aces’ head coach Kyle Buss. “We’ll be pretty young, but I think a lot of our younger talent is ready for varsity ball.”
The four returning starters include Ella Banks and Lexi Simmons, who are pitchers, as well as utility player Addie Drone and first baseman Allyson Armstrong.
The Lady Aces are scheduled to open the 2018 season Thursday on the road at Robinson.
“I have higher expectations that probably a lot of people do,” said Buss. “That’s probably because I’m pretty competitive and I want to win, and I think we’ll be able to win our fair share of games.”
The Lady Aces finished 10-9 last season and 2-6 in the always competitive Big 8 Conference.
Buss says he envisions the team using more of a small-ball type mentality to manufacture runs, although he does believe there are players on the squad that could provide a needed longball this season.
“I don’t think we’ll hit as many home runs as we did last year,” said Buss. “We’ll have to manufacture more of our runs than we have in the past. We have four or five girls that are pretty talented bunters, so I think we’ll have to use that to our advantage. We have some girls with speed so if we can get out on the bases and steal some runs and put pretty on the defense to make plays; I think that will be where our strength is.”
Banks and Simmons will toe the rubber the majority of the big games this season.
“They’ve done it in the past, and they know what to expect out there,” said a confident Buss. “They’ve been pitching for a while, and I’m pretty comfortable with those two.”
A pair of freshmen will be right there in Faith Fuller and Sierra Hannah for Buss to hopefully build for the future.
“They’re two other girls that can pitch, and I hope they can get some innings in this year as well,” said Buss. “Definitely early on I’ll be relying a lot on the two seniors to pitch the majority of the innings, but I want to see what we have with the two younger girls as well.”
Two players have emerged as the catchers for the Lady Aces. Buss says he’s not sure how playing time will be slit, but Madi Merritt and Allison Hedge will do the majority of the catching.
Armstrong will play first, Libby Schneider will be at second with a number of players capable of playing the left side of the infield including Fuller, Banks and Addie Drone.
“Depending on who is pitching that day, that will determine who is playing the left side of the infield,” said Buss.
In the outfield, Buss says Simmons, Kassidy Drone, Paige Hocking, Madeline Goldman, Lexi Ballard, Hannah and Taylor Roosevelt could fit the role.
“We have a number of girls that we feel we’ll be able to rotate between those positions because I think we’ll get a little depth all over the place,” said Buss.
The Lady Aces lost in the regional semifinals to a talented Carmi-White County team in Class 2A.
“[Our schedule] is tough,” said Buss. “Boonville and Jasper are two of the better teams in all of the state of Indiana. They’re obviously bigger school with bigger classes than us. We like to go over there and compete.
“In Illinois, you’ve got Carmi, who’s always a good program. Some of the teams around Olney are always pretty good. There’s not a lot of cupcakes on the schedule this year. We’re going to have to go out there and earn our W.”
With the number of young players on the team who have little to no high school varsity softball experience, Buss says that a learning curve is to be expected. However, even if the team doesn’t have the best record come tournament time, he expects his players will be battle tested thanks to the competitive schedule the Lady Aces have in front of them.
“With our younger team we’re going to have a bunch of kids that have never played high school softball before,” said Buss. “They’ve played travel ball and city leagues, but they’ve always been playing against girls their own age. Now you have 14-year olds going up against 18-year olds, and it’s a big jump in talent level.
“It will be an adjustment period, I’m sure, but I’m fully expecting our freshman to come in and make that jump and to be able to give us some significant innings.”
Contact Register Sports Editor Paul Wilcoxen at (618) 263-1004 ext 1025, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @paulwilcoxen