Ohio Wesleyan head coach Cassie Cunningham and the 2018 Battling Bishop softball team look to be in the race for the North Coast Athletic Conference tournament despite losing three position players and the top pitcher from last year’s team, which assembled a school-record-tying 9-game winning streak down the stretch to put itself into position to play for a spot in the tournament.
“We are young, but our youth has a lot of talent and a strong voice,” Cunningham said. “They’ve set lofty goals for themselves, but they challenge each other every day and enjoy the process.”
Senior Erin Ferguson (Greenwich, Conn.) returns behind the plate. A 2-time All-NCAC selection, Ferguson batted .361 last year after ranking among the conference’s elite sluggers in 2016, leading the league in slugging percentage, sharing the league lead in doubles, ranking second in RBI, and tying for second in home runs. Sophomore Becky Poling (Marysville) will look to get in some innings behind the plate.
At first base, sophomore Kennedy Sattler (Oregon/Clay) is back after receiving honorable mention All-NCAC recognition in 2017. She ranked 10th in the league in batting and led the Bishops with four home runs. Sophomore Emily VanDermark (Junction City/Fisher Catholic) also could see time at first base.
Senior Kayla Richard (Minster), a second-team All-NCAC choice who led the league in on-base percentage and ranked second in batting last year, could see time at either middle infield position or at third base.
Poling played most often at second base last season and could return there, with freshman Alexia Smith (Plain City/Fairbanks), an all-conference pick in high school; freshman Nicole Peak (Ostrander/Buckeye Valley), a 2-time all-conference choice in high school; and freshman Madi Drabick (Mount Vernon), a first-team all-district selection in high school, also possibilities.
At shortstop, Drabick and freshman Madison Bridger (Pataskala/Licking Heights), an all-league honoree in high school, could join Richard there.
Freshman Baylee Small (Pataskala/Watkins Memorial), an all-district choice in high school, also is in the mix at third base.
Senior Ashley Day (Plain City/Jonathan Alder) is back for her fourth season in centerfield. She was a first-team all-conference pick in 2017, tying for third in the NCAC in stolen bases and batting .364.
Bridger or freshman Paige Hashman (Mount Vernon) could win the starting spot in left, and in right, freshman Aimee Duckworth (Hilliard/Bradley) was an all-conference selection in high school and sophomore Ami Wright (Albuquerque, N.M./Sandia) returns from last year’s squad.
In the circle, sophomores Kendall Kaiser (Cincinnati/Amelia) and VanDermark return. Kaiser posted wins in four consecutive outings during the Bishops’ 9-game winning streak last season, while VanDermark ranked second on the team with six victories.
Freshman Erica Buchanan (Hilliard/Davidson), an All-Ohio pick in high school, and freshman Hailey de la Vara (Chatsworth, Calif./Harvard-Westlake), a 4-time all-league selection in high school, will look to contribute here, along with Drabick, Hashman, and Peak.
The Bishops open their season with a trip to Florida, where they face a schedule of 10 games during a week-long stay, highlighted by a 2017 NCAA tournament team in Benedictine. Ohio Wesleyan opens the northern portion of its schedule against Muskingum on March 21, then faces another 2017 NCAA playoff team in Alma. Dates against John Carroll and Bluffton lead into the conference schedule. The NCAC schedule opens on March 31 against Denison, and the NCAC tournament is scheduled for May 4-5.
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