It’s no secret that the Boonville Lady Pirates softball team will have a lot of new faces at different positions in 2019.

After falling below the radar last year at 8-15 overall and 1-6 in the Tri-County Conference, head coach Christie Zoeller is pinning her hopes on six returning starters and 10 letterwinners to lift the Lady Pirates from pretender to contender in 2019.

“We hope to improve overall from last year,” Zoeller said. “Our goal is to win more than eight games and have a better showing in the conference. Having pitchers go deep into games and our hitters need to hit will be the key to our season.”

Twenty-four players suited out for the upcoming season is a good start. But even then Zoeller will have to rely on only two seniors and six juniors to lead Boonville from obscurity to prosperity.

Of course just because the faces change this season in the TCC doesn’t mean those same teams won’t be at the top at the end of the year.

Zoeller said still being new to the conference, Blair Oaks still looks to be No. 1. “I feel like we lost a lot of very close conference games last year that could have gone either way,” Zoeller said. “I would say based off of the little I know that we have a strong chance to be sitting in the middle.”

While it’s no secret that the Lady Pirates had a lot of close games in the TCC last year-three to be exact by four runs or fewer-Zoeller feels like a strength of the team this season will be depth in the circle with four pitchers who could pitch at the varsity level. Zoeller said the pitchers have been working hard and really working on knowing what to throw and where to throw it.

“I also feel like we have some solid hitters up and down the lineup,” Zoeller said. “I am hoping that when we get into games, they will really show what they can do. But at the same time we are still young. We will have a lot of new faces taking the field this year, so we just have to find the right combination and let them work together.”

The goals right now, according to Zoeller, is to have more than eight wins and finish higher in the conference.

For that to happen, the Lady Pirates will have to do a better job in the circle and at the plate this season. In 2018, Boonville pitchers finished the season with an ERA of 5.898 while giving up 183 runs on 216 hits in 137 2/3 innings. Boonville pitchers also walked 68 batters. As for the hitting, the Lady Pirates as a team hit .313 with 192 hits in 613 bats with 129 strikeouts.

Pitchers that Zoeller will count on this season to throw strikes are juniors Kourtney Kendrick and Brooke Eichelberger, sophomore Emma West and freshman Abby Pulliam.

West-who is just a sophomore-returns after finishing 4-4 with an ERA of 5.143 in 2018. While pitching 49 innings-second most to Peyton Kempf’s 76 1/3 innings-West gave up 58 runs-36 earned-on 68 hits and 33 walks while striking out 35 batters. Kendrick, meanwhile, pitched just 10 innings in 2018 and finished 1-1 with an ERA of 8.40 while Eichelberger threw two innings and surrendered two hits and two walks while striking out two batters.

“I feel like our pitchers as a group will really work nicely together,” Zoeller said.

As for the infield, junior Alexis Trigg will return at catcher for the Lady Pirates after one season behind the plate. Zoeller said Trigg will bring some experience with her and has worked really hard. “We see a lot of improvement in her this year,” Zoeller said. “She handles the pitchers nicely. Lexi Maddex is another player who could also see some time behind the plate.”‘

On the infield, Zoeller said first base will see different faces throughout the season in juniors Brooke Eichelberger and Alexis Albin. Eichelberger appeared in 22 games last year and hit .303 with 20 hits in 60 at bats while Albin played in 15 games and batted .207.

Zoeller said both players have great gloves and can hit the ball well. “They will both share time there again,” Zoeller said. “Abby Pulliam may also see some time there as well.”

Zoeller will also have depth at second base this season. Sophomores Rachel Massa and Olivia Eichelberger will split time with Brooke Eichelberger after having only four and six games under their belt in 2018, respectively. “We will look for all three of these girls to be key hitters for us as well,” Zoeller said.

On the left side of the infield, Kendrick will return at shortstop after hitting .284 with 21 hits in 74 at bats with a team-leading 24 runs scored. Zoeller said Massa could also see some playing time at short. “These girls are both wonderful athletes who will play this position nicely.”

At third, Zoeller will look to senior Bryanna Jones and West to play the hot corner for the Lady Pirates. Jones returns after earning all-district second team and hitting .325 with a team-leading 25 hits, 24 singles and 16 RBIs. West, meanwhile, hit .372 with 16 hits in 43 at bats with 11 RBIs. West was also a second team all-district selection as a utility player in 2018.

“Bryanna and Emma were are two leading hitters from last year and will handle the hot corner as well,” Zoeller said. “Our infield could look different on any given day, depending on who is pitching and who is hitting.”

In the outfield, junior Daylynn Baker will be the only returning face for Boonville. While earning all-district honorable-mention last year, Baker will return in left after hitting .370 with 17 hits in 46 at bats with eight RBIs and 15 runs scored. She also led the team with 16 stolen bases. “Daylynn has a ton of speed so we will look to take advantage of that,” Zoeller said. “She was also one of our leading hitters last year so we look for more of the same from her this season.”

In center, Zoeller will look to senior Reese Lavers to provide good leadership and use her speed to track down fly balls. Meanwhile, in right, Zoeller said three girls will likely see playing time there. Vying for the right field spot are Olivia Eichelberger, Faith Mesik and Carlie Bishop. “All three girls are quick and will do a nice job for us out there,” Zoeller said.