Bunceton looks to improve on last year's finish of 14-10 overall and 4-1 in the CCAA

The Bunceton Lady Dragons softball team was so close in 2011 that they could almost smell a district championship. However after losing to the New Franklin Lady Bulldogs in the semifinal round of the district tournament, head coach Roger Stone said with seven of the nine starters back the Lady Dragons expect once again to compete for a conference and district title this fall.

And why not? After all, the Lady Dragons do have 10 returning letterwinners back from the 2011 season. Bunceton also closed out the fall season with a record of 14-10 overall and 4-1 in the CCAA conference. The Lady Dragons even had a winning record in the spring at 2-1.

"I think we should be competitive," Stone said. "Pitching will be our main concern because this will be the first year that Sam Brandes has pitched so we will need her to throw strikes. Sam was also an all-region outfielder last year so moving her weakens our defense."

While recording its first winning season since the 2006-07 season, Stone said the players left the 2011 season feeling that they should have done better in districts.
That being said, Stone said the players have something to prove this season. Needless to say, Stone said Pilot Grove is still the team to beat in the CCAA conference.

"They are conference champions until somebody dethrones them," Stone said. "However, I think we should compete for the conference title. The key is that we have to be ready to play every day because that's one of our weaknesses. We don't come ready to play every day."

Stone said Otterville should also be competitive with one of the top pitchers in the conference returning. The other three, he said, shouldn't be overlooked. He said Prairie Home, Jamestown and Higbee could sneak up on anybody and win on any given night.
As for the strengths of the team this season, Stone said obviously it has to be the hitting. And for good reason. Six starters returning after hitting .295 or better. The Lady Dragons also return six players who earned all-conference honors not to mention that seven of the nine starters returning with experience.

"We have a lot of good returning hitters," Stone said. "We put the ball in play, so teams will have to outscore us."

As for the weaknesses this season, Stone said it has to be pitching just because this is Brandes first year. He said losing a four-year starter at pitching is tough to replace. Another weakness for the Lady Dragons last year was the defense. Stone said the team averaged 3-4 errors a game in their losses and that figures in to the mental part of the game.

"We need to work on the mental aspect of the game," Stone said. "The girls tend to get down on themselves if we are behind or committing a lot of errors. With that being said, I still expect us to have a winning season and compete for a conference and district title."

As for the pitching, Brandes will have to carry the load early on until backup Lizzy Maddex feels comfortable coming in and pitching at the varsity level. While finishing 2-2 in the fall, Brandes also hit .414 at the plate with 29 hits in 70 at-bats with 16 singles, four doubles, one triple, eight home runs and a team-leading 34 RBIs.

"Sam throws the ball hard but needs to work on her control and throw strikes," Stone said. "As for Lizzy, she threw some last spring and has improved a lot."

Whoever is on the mound this season for Bunceton, they will have a capable target behind the plate in junior Maddy Berwanger. While earning all-conference team honors along with Brandes and Erica Kahle, Berwanger also delivered at the plate while leading the team with a .419 clip with 31 hits in 74 at-bats with 17 singles, eight doubles, five triples and one home run. Berwanger also drove in 20 RBIs.

Stone said he expects Berwanger to improve on her offensive statistics. "Maddy will bat in the middle of the order," Stone said. "However, she needs to work on her defensive skills."

As for the infield, junior Rachel Emde will return at first base for the Lady Dragons after hitting .299 with 20 hits in 67 at-bats with 12 singles, five doubles, two triples, one home run and 21 RBIs.

"Rachel will hit with power," Stone said. "However, she needs to remain consistent at first base."

At second, Stone will look to first-year starter Lexus Chapman, who he said is improving day to day.

As for the left side of the infield, senior Erica Kahle will make the switch from second base to shortstop. While hitting .367 for the season with 29 hits in 79 at-bats, Kahle also had 15 singles, six doubles, two triples, six home runs and 22 RBIs.

"Erica is the team leader," Stone said. "How she goes is how the team goes. She also gets on base a lot and is pretty solid both in her hitting and defense."

Rounding out the infield for the Lady Dragons at third base is Elizabeth Maddex. While earning second-team all-conference honors along with Emde, Maddex returns after hitting .310 for the season with 18 hits in 58 at-bats with 14 singles, two doubles, two home runs and 18 RBIs.

Stone said Deanne Emde will be the back up at either second or third.

"I think we are going to be pretty solid on the infield," Stone said. "We have almost everybody back so I see no reason to be as strong or stronger than last year."

As for the outfield, Julie Kahle will get the starting nod in left with senior Kaitlyn Fountain in center and Deanne Emde in right. A part-time starter last year in the outfield and second base, Stone said Kahle needs to improve on her defense. As for Fountain, Stone said the senior is making the switch from left to center.

"Kaitlyn has to be in command out there and take on the leadership role," Stone said. "As for Deanne, she played third for us this summer and did a good job and I expect her to carry that out to the outfield and play good defense."

Others who will see playing time in the outfield and infield this season for the Lady Dragons are Becky Fredrich, Kylee Flatt, Morgan Wieland and Bethany Irvin.