After closing out the 2016 season at 11-12 overall, Boonville Lady Pirates softball coach Christie Zoeller already had her mind thinking about what the future holds with six returning starters and 10 letterwinners in 2017.
Although nine of the 11 wins came in the NCMC, which was good enough for second place, Zoeller knew that the 2016 would be a rebuilding year while this fall would be more of a reloading year.
“I think we are going to be better than last year,” Zoeller said. “I’ve had some of the younger girls step up to fill some holes that were left from last year so I am definitely optimistic about the upcoming season.”
Twenty-three girls suited out for the upcoming season should help Zoeller sleep a little better at nights. Unfortunately for Zoeller, she may also have a few sleepless nights knowing that Mexico is back to defend its title in the conference.
“They have a lot back,” Zoeller said. “They are strong all the way up and down the lineup. I also think Hannibal will be much improved. I think we will be in the top half. If we come out and play like we can I feel like we can be in the top three. The key is that we have to hit the ball.
“I think the game of softball has evolved so much where you don’t see the pitchers striking out hitters as much. We just need to make contact on offense and make the solid routine plays defensively. I think our pitchers will give us fly balls and ground balls, we just have to be able to handle it.”
One thing the Lady Pirates do have in their favor this season, according to Zoeller, is that the leadership has been huge. She said the girls are working well together and getting along together which has made practices more enjoyable. “I also think the top half of our lineup will be pretty strong,” Zoeller said. “Right now we are just battling some injuries with a few players and have some uncertainity not knowing who will be starting each night due to different rotations we will have to use with our pitchers and catchers.”
As for the goals for the upcoming season, Zoeller said she wants to finish above .500 overall and in the conference. She said she feels like it’s a realistic goal since Boonville is hosting districts this year.
Pitching will also be key for the Lady Pirates this season. Zoeller said junior Peyton Kempf returns after finishing 4-5 last fall with an ERA of 6.527. Kempf also logged the second most innings from last year while pitching 49 1/3 innings and giving up 68 runs on 86 hits and 20 walks while striking out 18 batters.
Zoeller will also look to sophomore Logan Root, who pitched three innings last year, along with junior Hailey Polk and freshman Brooke Eichelberger.
“I feel very confident in our pitchers and their ability,” Zoeller said. “Peyton will have to pitch a lot of innings and go deep in games if we are going to have any success this season. She now knows what to expect when batters come to the plate, plus she is coming in with varsity experience which will help. But I think the biggest thing that will benefit her is that when her curveball is working it poses problems for hitters.”
Zoeller said Root has also improved immensely from last year. While throwing only three varsity innings, Zoeller said Root’s stamina has gotten better and she has picked up a little more speed. “If Logan can hit her spots and throw in some changeups, she will be essential to our success,” Zoeller said.
As for Polk and Eichelberger, Zoeller said they may come in if Kempf and Root run into trouble in a varsity game. “They are both young pitchers who are developing well,” Zoeller said.
Zoeller also has a number of possibilities at the catcher position. With senior Kyla Johnson back after sitting out last season due to injury and junior Zoe Coffelt returning as the starting catcher from last year, Zoeller said both will be on a rotation basis.
“I’m super excited to have Kyla back,” Zoeller said. “She is just a big strong presence behind the plate and she sees the whole field and communicates well with the girls by telling them where to go with the ball. Just having her bat back in the lineup will be huge for us. As for Zoe, she has improved immensely from last year. She has a lot more confidence in her ability and she is quick and moves well by blocking the ball.”
As for the infield, junior Jamie Lemmons will return at first base after .578 last year with 37 hits in 64 at-bats with 21 hits, seven doubles, one triple, eight home runs and 28 RBIs.
Zoeller said Lemmons and Kempf will switch off and on at first base.
“Jamie is a wall and doesn’t let anything get past her,” Zoeller said. “She will be one of our main offensive hitters. As for Peyton, she is a good solid first baseman and doesn’t let much get by her.”
As for the second base position, Zoeller said it’s a toss up between Polk and junior Morgan Massa. Zoeller said both players have improved offensively and defensively from last year. “They will both share equal time at second but my hope is that one will take charge.”
As for the left side of the infield, Zoeller will look to senior Camryn Monteer at short and either Lemmons or Johnson at third.
Monteer, a two-year starter at short and a three-year starter overall, returns after hitting .548 last fall with 40 hits in 73 at-bats with 28 singles, seven doubles, five triples and 15 RBIs. Monteer also led the team with 39 runs scored and 35 stolen bases.
Zoeller said Monteer will be the sparkplug on the infield. “We look for Camryn to get us going as our lead off hitter,” Zoeller said. “If we get her on it sets the tempo for the entire game. As for Kyla and Jamie at third, it will be determined by our opponent and who is pitching. They both do an exceptional job over there. I think we will be pretty strong at third. I think they work well together and communicate well.”
Zoeller will also return two starters in the outfield for the 2017 season. Senior Leigha Vollmer will be back for her second season in the outfield after starting in left last year. Junior Josie Robb also returns for the Lady Pirates in right.
Vollmer hit .338 last year with 22 hits in 65 at-bats with 19 singles, three doubles and nine RBIs. As for Robb, she hit .288 with 15 hits in 52 at-bats with 13 singles, two doubles and five RBIs.
Zoeller said Vollmer has improved on tracking the ball from last year. “We will also look to her to be a offensive leader,” Zoeller said. “As for Josie, she is a solid outfielder and has a good arm. Reese Lavers may also see some playing time in right.”
As for the left field position, Zoeller will go with a number of players at that position this season in Zoe Coffelt, Logan Root and Kerigan Samer. Zoeller said all three are solid outfielders.
“I think the outfield as a whole has worked hard to gel and communicate together,” Zoeller said. “We will be pretty quick overall in the outfield.”
Zoeller also likes what she sees from the offense in practice. She said the top half will be pretty strong. “We’ll have speed with Camryn and power with Kyla and Jamie,” Zoeller said. “Bunting will also be a key for us this year.”