News file photo In this file photo, Fredericktown’s Alyssa Perkins (2) is greeted by teammates Aria Hoeflich (21), Shelby Hughes (33), Emma Hatfield (7) and Morgan Mowery (19) after hitting a home run during a KMAC road game at Danville on April 6, 2019. Hoeflich and Hughes were seniors, Perkins was a junior and Hatfield a sophomore on this year’s squad. The Freddies had to replace eight players, including Mowery off last year’s squad, which went 10-11 overall and 7-7 in the Knox-Morrow Athletic Conference. But the season never got started. It was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

News file photo
In this file photo, Fredericktown’s Alyssa Perkins (2) is greeted by teammates Aria Hoeflich (21), Shelby Hughes (33), Emma Hatfield (7) and Morgan Mowery (19) after hitting a home run during a KMAC road game at Danville on April 6, 2019. Hoeflich and Hughes were seniors, Perkins was a junior and Hatfield a sophomore on this year’s squad. The Freddies had to replace eight players, including Mowery off last year’s squad, which went 10-11 overall and 7-7 in the Knox-Morrow Athletic Conference. But the season never got started. It was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

FREDERICKTOWN — Defense and communication were the two biggest things the Fredericktown softball team worked on during the offseason. And fourth-year coach Montana Huvler was excited to see the fruits of that labor on the field.

But the Freddies never got the chance because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to the end of the season before it ever got started.

Huvler particularly felt for her seniors. Aria Hoeflich was a three-year varsity player and Shelby Hughes, Falon Smith and Kahea Van Houten, who returned off of last year’s squad, all missed out on their last season as softball players.

“The group of (seniors) took it with such grace,” Huvler said. “You could just tell that they knew they couldn’t do anything to change it. They’re all going to do great things. To communicate that to them is really the only positive thing we have at this point.”

“It was really, really disappointing,” Smith said. “We had our team set and all of the girls were really working hard. We figured we were going to win a lot of games this year. We were really excited. We were just really ready to play.”

Smith started her high school career at Mount Vernon before moving over to Fredericktown before her junior year. She suffered an ankle injury and missed the second half of the season. This season, she emerged as one of the team’s leaders.

“I really tried,” she said. “I tried with a communicate a lot with teammates — especially first-year (players). If they had a bad day or something, I just tried to talk to them and communicate with them about everything.”

The Freddies had to replace eight players off last year’s team, which went 10-11 overall and 7-7 in the Knox-Morrow Athletic Conference.

Defense has been a weakness, program-wide, during Hulver’s time at the helm. But she saw her team put in the work in the offseason to improve.

“We’ve always lacked that discipline on defense,” she said. “This team wanted to get better at the things they were bad at. They were really willing to get on the field and practice that defensive, where we had a big fall last year.”

The Freddies had four pitchers they were going to use. Junior Macy Neer was going to see the bulk of the time. But fellow junior Alyssa Perkins as well as Smith and Hughes were expected to get innings as well.

“(Neer) had really grown in the maturity that you want to see from a J.V. player to a varsity player in her intensity on the mound,” Huvler said. “I think she had grown to respect what was around her and behind her.”

The Freddies were a little thin behind the plate. But junior Sydney Sansom was more than capable of handling the load. Freshman Gabby Daniels would have seen the bulk of her time at the J.V. level, but would have moved up to spell Sansom.

“(Sansom) is a beast at the plate,” Huvler said. “She’s got great skill. This season, we were really pushing to grow in leadership command. She’s a good leader, she’s a good student, athlete, hitter … and yet she’s a very quiet leader and motivator. So, we were really working on pulling that out of her and using her voice more.”

Van Houten was expected to be back at first base with Neer and junior Taylor Billman seeing time there as well.

Sophomore Lainey Partington, a varsity newcomer, was battling for time at second base, shortstop and in the outfield. She would have played somewhere, Huvler said.

“I was really pleased from watching her from her first season to this season,” Huvler said. “She’s very level-headed, no mood-swings, no emotional expressions on the field. I think having her join our team was going to push those returning players we had one step farther because she was able to keep (her) composure.”

Partington was battling with Hughes and junior Ryleigh Bebout at second and Smith and junior Tayler Overholt at shortstop, though Smith was the leader going into the clubhouse.

Juniors Emma Hatfield and Kendyl Richards were battling at third base.

“Kendyl’s reactions are quicker, but at the plate Hatfield is more consistent,” Huvler said. “I think I would have been pleased with either of them.”

Hoeflich had center field nailed down and was to be flanked by any combination of Perkins, Partington and Billman depending on pitching.

“(Hoeflich) is a natural center fielder,” Huvler said. “She gets great reads off the bat, communicates with left and right perfectly … she’s very dependable. She knows what she needs to do. She’s just one of those players that you don’t have to worry about. She just takes care of business.

“(Perkins) has a really strong bat. She is a beast at the plate. (She’s) a very small girl, but a phenomenal hitter. (Billman) is a left-handed hitter. She’s a junior and had never tried out for softball before. She had a lot of growing to do with respect to the pace of the game.”

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Michael Rich: 740-397-5333 or mrich@mountvernonnews.com and on Twitter, @mrichnotwealthy