Lady Pirates look to be stronger mentally and physically in 2020

Chris Bowie
Boonville Lady Pirates softball team (front row, left to right) Brooke Eichelberger, Becky Evans, Kourtney Kendrick, Alexis Albin, Daylynn Baker and Alexis Trigg. (second row, left to right) Faith Mesik, Rachel Massa, Gracey Rose, Jordyn Fuemmeler, Alison Eichelberger and Carlie Bishop. (back row, left to right) Assistant coach Caitlin Pendergraft, Olivia Eichelberger, Lexie Maddex, Abby Pulliam, Emma West, Allison Drummond, Josie Widel and head coach Christie Zoeller. Not pictured is assistant coach Amanda Rhorer.

Before the season even begins for the Boonville girls softball team, head coach Christie Zoeller said the Lady Pirates are already stronger both mentally and physically than in 2019.

With 18 players suited out for the 2020 season, Zoeller will have the luxury of returning seven starters and 11 letterwinners.

Needless to say, the Lady Pirates still have a lot of work to do after finishing 6-14 overall and 3-4 in the Tri-County Conference, which was good enough for fifth place.

“We hope to be strong competition against our opponents this season,” Zoeller said. “Returning seven starters will be a huge benefit for us this season. Our pitchers are also very experienced and will know the level of intensity they have to come out with, which will make us stronger as a whole.”

The Lady Pirates would also move up in the standings in the TCC after finishing behind Blair Oaks, Southern Boone, California and Hallsville.

Zoeller said the conference as a whole as a lot of really great softball programs. She said Blair Oaks is always tough and will be again this year. However, the plan is to come out and be able to compete with all of the teams in the conference this season. “I think that if we come out strong and tap into our full potential that we can finish strong in the top half of the conference,” Zoeller said.

Of course it all comes to pitching, hitting and defense, which the Lady Pirates struggled with at times last season.

Zoeller said those three areas will be the key again this season. She said softball has become a true hitters game over the years but feels like the Lady Pirates have a strong pitching staff that can keep batters off balance.

Other areas that play a part in how successful the team will be is team chemistry, which Zoeller said it a strength this season.

“With only 18 girls we have been able to have some really wonderful team bonding,” Zoeller said. “Iam seeing the girls root for each other, pick each other up and help guide each other. This is one of those things that you hope to have with your team but it is hard to enforce. These girls get along so well and it makes our chemistry on the field one of the strongest we have had in a while.

“They trust each other and can just anticipate each other moves. We also have a strong pitching and catching staff that work really well together. Both positions bring back players that are more confident this season.”

Of course Zoeller also knows there are plenty of things to work on before Saturday’s Annual Lady Pirate Lead-Off Classic. She said as a coach you see that things your players need to improve on each day and the team plans practices around working on those skills.

“As far as picking out weaknesses, it’s hard to say,” Zoeller said. “I think that we have little things here and there that we can definitely work on, but it’s tough to call out particular weaknesses.”

Zoeller is also realistic about the 2020 season. She said the main goals are focusing on finishing with a .500 season, play a full seven innings of softball and don’t give up too soon.

As for the motto for the season, Zoeller said each year the seniors pick the motto for the season. She said this year they chose “There’s no crying, there’s not crying in softball.” This is a quote from “A League Of Their Own”, which is a popular movie the girls watch each year.

“I think this motto sums up where we are in the world right now,” Zoeller said “There are many things going on around us that can make you feel defeated, but softball is the one place the girls can all come together and block out everything else. We can come together and play the game that we all love.”

While using a total of four different pitchers in 2019, all four return for the Lady Pirates in 2020. Although all four bring something unique in the circle, Zoeller said junior Emma West and sophomore Abby Pulliam will be the heart of the team in the pitching circle. Each player compliments each other very well and will be a powerful duo, Zoeller said.

Both pitchers also combined for all but 2/3 innings in 2019 for Boonville. Pulliam finished the season at 3-3 overall and pitched a total of 75 innings for the Lady Pirates. West, meanwhile, closed out the season at 3-9 overall and pitched a total of 47 innings. Pulliam and West also had 85 and 39 strikeouts, respectively.

“Abby could see some time at first base as well, while Emma will see lots of playing time at third base,”Zoeller said. “Both of these ladies will also be in the heart of our lineup.”

And for good reason. West finished the season hitting .364 with 24 hits in 66 at bats. She also had a team-leading seven doubles, two home runs and 16 RBIs. Pulliam, meanwhile, batted .250 with nine hits in 36 at bats.

At the catcher position, Zoeller said senior Alexis Trigg is one of the most improved players. A two-year starter at the catcher position, Zoeller said Trigg works extremely hard behind the plate and handles her pitchers well.

Also getting a look at catcher this season are sophomores Jordyn Fuemmeler and Josie Widel.

On the infield, senior Brooke Eichelberger returns at first base for the Lady Pirates. Eichelberger hit .281 last season with 16 hits in 57 at bats with a team-leading two triples. Zoeller said Eichelberger returns with a ton of experience. “She has improved at this position over the past few years and really plays a strong first base,” Zoeller said. “We will also count on Brooke to be a leader at the plate this season.”

At second base, junior Rachel Massa returns for her second season at that position. Massa hit .211 with 12 hits in 57 at bats and was second on the team in runs scored with 13.

Zoeller said Massa is quick and moves really well to the ball. “Rachel has also been working on her hitting and we are seeing great improvement each day,” Zoeller said.

As for the left side of the infield, senior Kourtney Kendrick returns at shortstop after earning second team all-conference and first team all-district in 2019. While leading the team in hitting with a .367 clip, Kendrick also had 22 hits in 60 at bats with a team-leading 15 singles, two home runs and 18 runs scored. She also led the team in walks with nine.

Zoeller said Kendrick is a great shortstop and leader of the infield. “She and Rachel work really well in the middle of the infield and we are looking to see some big plays from them this season,”Zoeller said. “Kourtney will be a leading hitter for us this season as well.”

At third base, Zoeller will use both West and Alexis Albin this season. While earning second team all-district as a utility player in 2019, Zoeller said West will also be a leader at the plate this season. “Emma packs a strong punch when she swings the bat and we hope to see some big hits from her this year,”Zoeller said. “As for Alexis, she also looks to contribute a lot at the plate this season. Both of these ladies have potential to be really great at this spot.”

Although not as many at bats as Kendrick, Albin finished the 2019 season hitting .367 with 11 hits in 30 at bats.

As for the outfield, Zoeller said this group will be a lot stronger and faster this season.

“As far as who is starting in which spot, we are still up in the air,” Zoeller said. “These girls have really showed up at practice this season and are pushing each other every day to earn the starting spot.”

Players looking to see time in the outfield are: Daylynn Baker, Lexie Maddex, Olivia Eichelberger, Faith Mesik and Gracie Rose. Zoeller said this is a group of talented athletes and will make an amazing outfield. “We also have stronger hitters in this group,”Zoeller said. “Daylynn looks to be a strong option as a lead off hitter due to her speed and ability to make contact. Lexie, Olivia and Grace are all smart, solid hitters. Faith is also show a threat at the plate by learning how to be a slapper. She has really taken off with this and is doing a great job.”

Olivia Eichelberger, who started in right last year, returns after hitting .263 with 15 hits in 57 at bats. Baker, meanwhile, finished the 2019 season with a .220 clip with 13 hits in 59 at bats.