In her 10 years as head coach of the Boonville Lady Pirates softball team, Christie Zoeller said this is probably the most interchangeable team she has ever put on the field.
With 24 girls suited out for the 2018 season, four of which are returning starters, Zoeller said this is a year that she doesn’t really have a true catcher or true lead off batter.
“I’ve had to find players to play positions,” Zoeller said. “This is definitely a rebuilding year. We have some experience back but we’ll have lots of people playing in new positions so it will take time to get the feel for that.”
While moving from the North Central Missouri Conference to the Tri-County Conference this season, the Lady Pirates will definitely have their work cut out with Blair Oaks and Southern Boone at the top. Zoeller said those teams are always good but said the Lady Pirates could fit somewhere in the middle at the 3-4 spot. “If we can put all the pieces together that we have I think we could surprise ourselves a little bit,” Zoeller said.
The Lady Pirates had few surprises in 2017 while finishing 11-13 overall and 3-9 in the NCMC.
However if Boonville is going to be successful in the TCC, Zoeller said they will have to hit the ball and score runs.
“I think even when Jamie is catching for the first time, she is going to be a good leader behind the plate,” Zoeller said of senior Jamie Lemmons being a strength of the team. “We have five girls who can pitch at the varsity level so we have the numbers to pitch. Our biggest downfall could be inexperience at certain positions and the youth of our team. When we go up against some of these bigger schools I think it will show. We are not going to be as fast as we have been in the past, either.”
With so many question marks surrounding the season, Zoeller said her goal this fall is to finish in the top half of the conference and get past the first round of districts.
“Our motto this fall is: ‘If it was easy everybody would do it, the hard is what makes it great’,” Zoeller said.
Of course what the Lady Pirates lack in experience Zoeller hopes they make up for in pitching with the top two pitchers returning from last year in senior Peyton Kempf and junior Logan Root.
Kempf returns after finishing 6-9 with an ERA of 5.383. The senior lefty also threw the majority of the innings in 2017 while logging 92 1/3 innings and giving up 115 runs on 162 hits and 34 walks while striking out 43. As for Root, the junior hurler finished 5-4 with an ERA of 4.445 while throwing 45 2/3 innings and giving up 47 runs on 60 hits and 38 walks while striking out 26.
Zoeller said Kempf will do the bulk of the pitching this fall. “I expect Peyton to step up and be a leader in the circle,” Zoeller said. “She works the outside corner well and throws a good curveball. As for Logan, she also has experience in the circle and that’s something you can’t coach. She doesn’t throw hard but she throws strikes.”
Other players who could see time in the circle for Boonville are sophomores Kourtney Kendrick, Brooke Eichelberger and Alexis Albin and freshman Emma West.
Zoeller said Kendrick, Eichelberger and Albin all hit their spots well. “Kourtney is a smart pitcher so I am looking for her to pitch some innings this fall,” Zoeller said. “Brooke has increased her velocity while Alexis has also improved a lot from last year and has more control of her pitches. As for Emma, she works hard and her pitches seem to move.”
At catcher, Zoeller will go with senior Jamie Lemmons. A all-conference, all-district, all-region and all-state selections at first base last fall, Lemmons returns after hitting .522 with 35 hits in 67 at bats with 19 singles, eight doubles, one triple, seven home runs and 22 RBIs. She also finished second on the team in runs scored with 29.
Zoeller said Lemmons is a well-rounded player no matter where you put her. “She is talented enough to play anywhere on the field,” Zoeller said. “I told Jamie I needed her at catcher this fall and she said whatever I can do to help the team, so she is a team player.”
As for the rest of the infield, Zoeller said Albin and Eichelberger could split time at first base. With both players seeing most of their time on the JV team last year, Zoeller said both players are big and tall at first. “They both stretch well to the ball,” Zoeller said.
At second, Zoeller said senior Hailey Polk returns from last year but is being pushed by freshman Olivia Eichelberger.
Zoeller said she will look to Polk to be a leader at second with her experience. As for Eichelberger, Zoeller said she is a little go-getter and not scared to go after the ball.
On the left side of the infield, Zoeller said Kendrick is the frontrunner at shortstop but mentioned Root and freshman Rachel Massa as getting looks at that position as well.
A transfer from Prairie Home High School, Zoeller said Kendrick is athletic and moves to the ball well while Root is quick to the ball and could also see some playing time in right. As for Rachel Massa, Zoeller said she is not afraid to go to the ball and also has a quick first step.
On the corner at third, junior Bryanna Jones will get the nod there after seeing action in 12 games in 2017. While hitting .324 with 11 hits in 34 at bats, Zoeller said Jones is another player that is not afraid to play the hot spot. “Bryanna has improved a lot from last year,” Zoeller said. “The infield as a whole has a lot of interchangeable parts. I think when we find that right chemistry, we could be pretty good.”
The same could be said of the outfield, with senior Josie Robb moving over from left to center this fall. While hitting .257 last year with 18 hits in 70 at bats, Robb also drove in 10 runs while finishing third in runs scored with 20.
Zoeller said Robb will bring experience to the outfield.
As for left, Zoeller said junior Reese Lavers is probably the fastest player on the team. While seeing the bulk of her playing time on the JV team last year, Lavers did appear in 13 games in 2017 but mostly as a pinch runner.
As for the right field position, Zoeller said Root, sophomore Daylynn Baker and senior Morgan Massa all possess the ability to play that position.
Zoeller said Root played a little in right last year so she has a little bit of experience at that position. As for Massa and Root, Zoeller said both players are quick.
“Morgan will be our utility player,” Zoeller said. “She could play some in right or second base. I think the outfield will be pretty quick and also experienced.”
As for the Lady Pirate Lead Off Classic on Saturday, Zoeller said it will be imperative for this team to find its chemistry of playing together and just finding people who will go after the ball and not wait for the ball to come to them. “We would like to win it again,” Zoeller said of the Lady Pirate Classic. We have won the tournament 11 out of the last 12 years, so we would like to make it 12.”