SPARTA — After losing five seniors after last year, including four starters, fourth-year Highland softball coach Shelly Hornsby wasn’t quite sure what to expect this season.
As the practices rolled on, her confidence grew in her team. It all culminated with a Friday practice late in March.
“The whole practice was fast-paced until we got to the hitting portion of it (where we) did some live hitting,” Hornsby said. “I looked at my assistant coach, Payton (Scully) and we were like, ‘Wow! This is going to be an exciting year.’ There weren’t many mistakes that practice. It was just so exciting to see how the girls were working together. They just all had a huge passion for the game and you could tell the way they working together.”
Then, just like that, the season stopped.
“When I got that call 15 minutes later saying we couldn’t do anymore until further notice, it was my heart just dropped to the ground,” Hornsby said. “I had some big expectations for what the season was going to look like.”
That practice occurred on March 13, the day the spring season was initially postponed. It was ultimately canceled April 21.
“From my perspective, I would rather keep everybody safe,” senior Gena West said. “After we graduate, we can come back and play a couple of softball games together.”
The Scots lost Kaitlyn Carney, Liz Jenson, Mary Schwartz, Lucy Smith and Morgan Wilhelm off of last year’s squad, which went 16-8 overall and 11-3 in the Knox-Morrow Athletic Conference.
But there were five seniors on this year’s squad in West, Mattie Ruehrmund, Brooklyn Geiger, Darcie Walters and Jenna Rogers.
“Most have been playing since we were in tee-ball together,” West said. “I was really excited for the season to get going so that we could see what we could do this year.”
Also returning were juniors Savannah Fitzpatrick and Haven Farson and sophomore Madison Peoples.
New to the team were Rogers, sophomore Audrey Robinson and freshmen Guinevere Jackson and Stevie Asher.
“The girls that I had coming back, they’re all very positive and they’re all very good friends,” Hornsby said. “And I feel that the people that I brought up to the varsity level just … slid right into the grove of things. They really came together as a team.”
A lot of coaches are still figuring out lineups at the beginning of the season. Hornsby was not one of those coaches. Her lineup was set.
“I did have it set,” she said. “I was ready to go.”
Asher and Peoples were slated to handle the circle for the Scots. Peoples saw action last year behind Lucy Smith, who graduated after last season.
“(Peoples) didn’t get to pitch a whole lot (last year) because Lucy did most of the pitching,” Hornsby said. “But I could see improvements from her this year. I think we would have had two great pitchers that we could (substitute) back and forth.”
Ruehrmund would have been a four-year starter behind the plate.
“She could see things very well and had a strong arm (and was) a great hitter,” Hornsby said.
West returned at first base, Farson was penciled in at second, Geiger was back at short and Robinson was set to handle third.
“(Gena) would have played first base for me for three years,” Hornsby said. “I’m certainly going to miss her length. She just did a fantastic job and had the best attitude. (Farson is) a great athlete. It’s exciting to see what she does for us on the field and she’s a good hitter as well. Just a great talent.
“(Geiger) has a true gift for the game. She’s smiling all the time and has good energy. She’s just a natural at what she does. She’s very quick with the ball. Just an all-around good player. I had Morgan Wilhelm (at third) last year. I saw some great things from (Robinson) in practice. I wish I would have gotten the chance to see her there this year. I think it would have been an exciting year for her.”
Fitzpatrick was going to play center field and would have been flanked by Walters in right and Jackson in left. Fitzpatrick is also the backup catcher.
“Fitzpatrick is one of those girls that can just play anywhere,” Hornsby said. “The only thing I haven’t seen her do is pitch. But I’m sure if you gave her the chance, she could do that too. She’s usually my leadoff hitter and has great control. She has tremendous speed and can really the ball really quick.
“Every year (Walters) kept improving and kept improving on her defensive game. I think she deserved to be in right field this year. (Jackson is) very quick and has a lot of speed. A very quiet person. Obviously, I could only see her in practice, but she made some exciting plays out there.”
Rogers would have seen time in the outfield, but Hornsby really liked her speed and would have used her primarily as a pinch runner.
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