The West Jefferson High School softball team returns just about every key member from the squad that dropped a heartbreaker in the Division III district championship game last spring to eventual state champion Bloom-Carroll.
Every key member that is except, D-III second-team All-Ohio pitcher Brynna Cahill, who is now roaming the campus at Muskingum University. Cahill played a major role in getting the Roughriders as far as they’ve ever been in the district tournament, but her departure doesn’t mean the end of the road for West Jeff, just ask coach Jim Stevens.
“Our girls are focused,” the coach said. “They’ve set a goal of getting past where we were last year.”
In order to accomplish that goal, the team doesn’t need someone who can match what Cahill was able to accomplish, it simply needs someone or a collection of someones who can simply throw strikes and allow the collection of talented players around them to do their jobs.
“We know defensively that we’re extremely strong, with a lot of returnees back,” Stevens said. “We need someone who’s going to throw strikes and let the other team put the ball in play. We feel good about our defense and about having those girls make plays.”
Even though the West Jeff pitching staff took a hit with graduation, it did benefit from the return of one of the best players to ever pitch at the school. Rachel McAninch, who starred inside the circle for the Roughriders and then went on to have a highly successful career at Mount Union, is back as an assistant coach.
“She’s been working with the girls and has taken over that aspect of the team,” Stevens said. “We’ve got five girls with some experience pitching, some haven’t done it since eighth grade. What we’re probably going to have is a rotation, using two or three girls in a game until we find someone.”
The players that will get the longest looks at the key position are Annie Haenszel and Andrea Fulton.
“Annie has really worked with Rachel and Andrea was Brynna’s backup last year but really didn’t see much time,” the coach said.
Whoever the player is inside the circle, she will have a huge helper behind the plate in All-District catcher Taylor Bowman. Bowman has become a mainstay and her presence alone should make any pitcher comfortable.
“She’s going to be a huge help with younger pitchers,” Stevens said.
Having depth and flexibility should allow West Jeff to bring along an inexperienced pitcher at perhaps a slower pace than normal.
In addition to Bowman, the team returns first baseman Emily Stevenson, third baseman Josie Hume, Haenszel will play some shortstop when not pitching and Madison Gately, a transfer from Bishop Ready will see playing time on the infield. Other infielders include Hunter Stull, Leanna Henry and Emma Fisher.
In the outfield, Taylor Kauser moves from right field to center, while Kennedy Campbell will be in left and Allison Haskins will likely be in right.
Last spring West Jeff won a share of its division of the Mid-State League, this year’s version will include different schools including a pair of Madison County foes in London and Madison-Plains.
“The best part about being in the new league are the shorter travel times,” Stevens said. “Every team in the new league can play. It’s a very competitive league. It’ll be nice playing teams from the county too.”
Chris Miles can be reached at (740) 852-1616, ext. 18 or via Twitter @MadPressSports.