Lady Pirates show promise with core players back in 2021

Chris Bowie
Boonville Daily News
Boonville Lady Pirates softball team (front row, left to right) Mattie Wells, Bayleigh Warren, Carlie Bishop, Jordyn Fuemmeler, Lexie Lane, and Casey Bedell. (second row, left to right) Gracey Rose, Rachel Maddex, Shelby Robb, Emma West, Lexi Maddex, Faith Mesik, and Olivia Eichelberger. (third row, left to right) Josie Widel, assistant coach Caitlin Pendergraft, head coach Christie Zoeller, assistant coach Amanda Rhorer, and Alison Eichelberger. (back row, left to right) Mia Eckerle, Allison Drummond, Cora Thompson, Abby Pulliam, Sophie Zoeller, and Lillian Newham.

It’s no secret that the Boonville Lady Pirates softball team was playing some of its best softball towards the end of the season last fall.

After knocking off the No. 4 and 1 seeds in the district tournament at Moberly, the Lady Pirates finally had its season come to an end in the championship game against the Centralia Panthers.

Boonville softball coach Christie Zoeller enters her 13th season at the helm with five starters and nine letterwinners returning for the 2021 season.

Although the Lady Pirates finished the 2020 season at 12-12 overall and 3-3 in the Tri-County Conference, Zoeller said this season looks to be another great one. “We’re returning a lot of our core players from last season and our new players have really done a great job filling our open positions,” Zoeller said. “This group of girls have worked really hard throughout the summer and our first two weeks of practice have showed a lot of promise for a great season.”

With an average of 6.0 runs per game and a .285 team batting average, Zoeller said scoring runs will be key to the team’s success along with a strong pitching staff.

With over half of the team back from last check, Zoeller can check off scoring runs this season. As for the pitching, Zoeller can check that off as well with junior Abby Pulliam returning in the circle after earning first team all-district and second team all-conference and all-region.

“One of our great strengths this season will be our pitching staff,” Zoeller said. “We return Abby Pulliam and Emma West, who both come with a lot of experience at the varsity level. We also add freshman Lilliam Newham, who will help round out this group. Our batting lineup will also pack a lot of power this season as well. We have the potential to do a lot of great things at the plate throughout this season. This will be a key to our success this season.”

With so many positives on the team this season, Zoeller said the one big negative is that Boonville graduated a great group of seniors last season but have worked hard throughout the summer to find the right players to fill those positions.She said it will be important to build the team chemistry early in this season. “Just learning to read each other and trust that your teammates will back you up is something we are working hard to build everyday,” Zoeller said.

After reaching the championship in the district tournament last year, Zoeller said that is the No. 1 goal of the team again this season.  

Pulliam and West could definitely have something to say about whether Boonville returns to the district championship again this season. While finishing 12-4 overall with an ERA of 3.169, Pulliam also logged 112 2/3 innings and gave up 78 runs on 105 hits while striking out 85 batters. West, meanwhile, pitched the second most innings on the team at 33 1/3 innings and gave up 66 runs on 55 hits and 48 walks while striking out 19 batters.

“Abby will return as a dominant force in the circle for us this season,” Zoeller said. “She really led us through districts last year and will return even stronger this season. Abby works hard and is driven to find a way to defeat her opponents. Emma and Lillian could also see some time in the circle this season. Emma comes with a lot of experience and is very strong in the circle. Lillian will be a freshman this year but she has played a lot of strong competitive ball and will be able to help us out in the circle this season.”

With the pitching staff pretty much set with Pulliam as the No. 1, followed by West and Newham, Zoeller will have to make a decision at the catcher position between juniors Jordyn Fuemmeler and Josie Widel. Fuemmeler played in 19 games last season and hit .262 with 11 hits in 42 at bats. Widel saw most of her time last season on the JV team as a catcher.

“We have two strong choices at the catcher’s position this season,” Zoeller said of Fuemmeler and Widel. “Both of these players are strong and grounded behind the plate. They each have definite strengths and handle our pitching staff well.”

As for the infield, Zoeller will start Newham at first base with Pulliam also seeing some time at that position when she isn’t in the circle. As a hitter, Pulliam batted .286 with 14 hits in 49 at bats with a team-high 16 walks.

“Lillian is very steady at first and does a great job keeping the ball in front of her,” Zoeller said. “She will also do great things at the plate for us this season. She packs a ton of power and is very smart at the plate. As for Abby, she will also be a leading hitter for us.”

At second, Zoeller has no worries at that position with senior Rachel Massa returning for another season. While earning second team all-district honors in 2020, Massa returns after leading the team in hitting with a .378 average with 28 hits in 74 at bats with 25 singles, two doubles, one triple and nine RBIs. Massa also scored 15 runs.

“Rachel is one of our most veteran infielders and has everything you want a middle infielder to have such as speed, agility and quickness,” Zoeller said. “She is also a heads up player. Rachel also always finds a way to make something happen at the plate.”

On the left side of the infield, Zoeller will look to freshman Cora Thompson at shortstop and West and third base. Zoeller said Thompson has worked really hard this summer and throughout practice to learn how to play this position as it is new to her. “Cora has a ton of speed and she’s not afraid to get her body in front of the ball,” Zoeller said. “She will also do a lot of great things at the plate this year.”

West also returns after earning honorable-mention all-conference and first team all-district while hitting .298 with 25 hits in 84 at bats with a team-leading four home runs and 19 runs scored. West also had the second fewest strikeouts on the team in 2020 with seven. Massa finished with only five strikeouts.

Zoeller said West also has a lot of experience at this position and handles the hot corner very well. “She is not afraid of the ball and has a great arm,” Zoeller said. “She will pack tons of power at the plate as well.”

The outfield will also have experience this season. Zoeller said Boonville is in a very unique position again this season in the fact that they have four returning outfielders who are also seniors. These four players are Olivia Eichelberger, Lexi Maddex, Faith Mesik and Gracey Rose. Eichelberger will start in left after hitting .262 last fall, while Maddex will get the nod in center and Mesik in right.

“All those ladies are solid outfielders,” Zoeller said. “They’re all fast, fearless, and have great arms. Each game may look a little different as to who is starting for us.”

Other players who could see some varsity playing time is sophomore Alison Eichelberger. Zoeller said Eichelberger was a huge threat on the base path last year as a courtesy runner. “She was able to score a lot of runs for us because she is fearless and fast,” Zoeller said. “Alison could also see some playing time as a middle infielder.”