Over the past two seasons, Kirtland’s softball team has recorded a 34-7 record, won two league titles and appeared in back-to-back Division III district semifinal games.
With just two returning starters and a roster that features six freshmen, a sophomore, six juniors and just three seniors, the Hornets are going to have to grow up fast to reach a similar level of success in 2015.
“It’s definitely a different group of kids,” said third-year coach Tony Scibelli. “We have a lot of new kids in the program and we’ve got a few injuries we’re trying to deal with.”
The Hornets graduated their starting pitcher, catcher, first baseman and two of three outfielders. They’ll also be without sophomore Lindsay Ward, who tore her ACL during the fall soccer season. Ward, an All-Ohioan, led the team in batting average (.564), on base percentage (.630), slugging percentage (1.419), RBI (39) runs scored (39), home runs (12), triples (4) and doubles (9). Ward also struck out 79 batters in 63 1/3 innings pitched.
“We lost seven seniors and we lost Lindsay for the season,” Scibelli said. “Our opening day lineup is going to basically have two returning starters in the field. It’s going to be a new look for us.”
The good news is the Hornets return all-around standout Hallie Ward, a junior, and senior third baseman Sarah Steigerwald.
Hallie Ward was second on the team with a .526 batting average and 10 stolen bases and was second in on base percentage (.616), RBI (22), runs scored (32), triples (2) and doubles (8). She spent the 2014 season at shortstop but is expected to be behind the dish in 2015. She’ll also see time in the circle. She last pitched in 2013.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if Hallie Ward catches the majority of innings for our team,” Scibelli said. “It’s such a vital position and you have to be solid back there. The other two that are in the mix are (freshmen) Vikkie Carriero and Danielle Davis.”
Steigerwald has the third base position locked down for another season. She batted .364 with 21 RBI and 16 runs scored in 2014.
“She had a little bit of an injury in the winter but it looks like she’ll be back 100-percent by the time we play our first game,” Scibelli said. “She’s solid. She’s like a cornerstone for us.”
The rest of Kirtland’s lineup isn’t as settled.
Freshmen Morgan Faber and Colleen Baldrey are expected to handle most of the pitching duties, with Hallie Ward being a third option.
“We’re not sure who is going to be the No. 1 yet,” Scibelli said. “Morgan is more of a drop ball type pitcher. She gets a lot of ground balls. Colleen is a lefty so she gives us a different look and gets some pretty nice movement on the ball.”
Junior Olivia Mancisio is slotted to play first base with junior Lauren Briggs expected to play a reserve role there and in the outfield.
While Mancisio batted .355 with 11 RBI and a home run last season, the Hornets lost one of the program’s top defensive players when Angelia Heimsoth graduated last spring.
“Olivia Mancisio is I think going to do a really nice job for us there,” Scibelli said. “It’s going to be tough to replace Angelia there. She was probably the best fielding first baseman I’ve coached. You kind of take it for granted that she had it locked down for two years but I think Olivia will step up and be a nice player there for us. She’s going to have a really big year for us offensively. She’s hitting the ball really well right now.”
Seniors Samantha Achauer and Rebecca Kissinger and junior Cam Garcia will fill the middle infield spots. Achauer is the likely starter at second base with Kissinger at short. Garcia will fill in at second base and in the outfield, which will be filled with those players not playing in the infield.
“The outfield is going to depend on who is playing in the infield,” Scibelli said. “Our best outfielder by far is Sam Achauer but unfortunately we’re going to really need her in the infield. It really is one of those things where game to game we may have a different lineup depending on who is doing well.”
Juniors Kerri Zalba and Danielle Meyer and freshmen Mya Adams, Danielle Davis and Katie McCollister are the outfielders on the Hornets’ roster.
Outside of Lindsay and Hallie Ward, Steigerwald and Mancisio, the Hornets have had limited varsity at bats. The other 12 players on the roster accounted for just 16 hits in 55 at bats last season. Achauer was 5-for-11 (.454) and Garcia was 7-of-22 (.318).
Last season, the Hornets belted 21 home runs and had a total of 72 extra base hits. This year, they’ll likely take a different approach to scoring runs.
“Offensively we’re a very different team,” Scibelli said. “That may not be a bad thing. We have a much more flexible team this year offensively. Last year we were more of a power driven team. This year we can do a lot of different things, which is good from a coaching standpoint, and we’re going to need to because we’re going to have a problem shutting people out. We have a lot of flexibility and speed and we have some good power too.”
Scibelli saw a lot of good things out of his young team during their four scrimmages against some of Northeast Ohio’s top teams including Vienna Mathews, a Division IV powerhouse, Youngstown Ursuline, Vermilion and Elyria, a Division I state finalist last season.
“I’ve seen a team that’s really trying to figure out how to be an effective varsity team,” he said. “That’s part of the learning process. It was the same way in 2013. We had a lot of new kids then that were learning how to be varsity athletes and we’re in the same boat this year too. We have a lot of freshmen that are very green but are working hard.”
Scibelli was in a similar position when he took over the Berkshire softball program in 2011 and the Kirtland program in 2013. He led the young Badgers to the Chagrin Valley Conference Valley Division title in that first season and has led the Hornets to back-to-back CVC crowns the past two years.
“I’m definitely used to having to develop players,” he said. “The key to that is always getting their mentality correct. You can work on form all you want but if you don’t have that varsity mentality you’re not going to go very far. That’s what we’re really trying to stress every day is learning to be a varsity athlete.”
That mentality for the Hornets starts with believing the conference championship is within their reach.
“Every year we plan on winning the conference and we do everything within our power to make sure that it happens,” Scibelli said. “This year is no different.”
Kirtland opens the season at Wickliffe on Monday.