The Goreville Blackcats enter this season coming off a 24-12 record last season. Three seniors will be back for the Blackcats this year. Pitcher Cheyenne Walker, utility player Breanna Stout and Alexandria King who both pitches and plays first base.
“Major leadership is what I’m expecting from these seniors,” said coach Shanna Green. “They have that experience so now it’s becoming that leader and teaching the underclassmen.”
King led Goreville with 59 hits, 59 RBI’s, 16 doubles and eight home runs last season. For a team that hit a total of 17 home runs last year, King is the big bat that Goreville needs. King is also one of the most reliable fielders on the team finishing with four errors in 35 games played last season.
On the mound, King started a team-high 14 games last season. She finished with an 8-7 record and completed seven games in 19 total appearances. Walker (89) and King (84) combined for 173 strikeouts to lead the Blackcats. As a sophomore, Kelsey Ray finished third on the team with 61 strikeouts in 14 appearances.
Walker finished her junior season with an 11-3 record. She threw for the second-most pitches (1,111) behind King (1,164) and finished with the highest winning percentage on the roster (.786).
Junior Samantha Licka finished with three home runs last season which was tied for second-most on the team. Licka also posted 15 doubles and 41 RBI’s as a sophomore.
Fellow junior Payton Sopczak also turned out a strong sophomore season, posting 46 hits, 32 RBIs and 11 doubles.
The Blackcats welcome a couple freshman to the team this season. Freshman Abigail King will be used at catcher and as a utility player, while Kyleigh Massey will start her high school career playing in the outfield.
“Abigail will actually be starting behind the plate as a freshman for us this season,” said Green. “We just need to get her the high school experience that she needs.”
The Harrisburg Bulldogs softball team enters 2019 with a lot of high hopes. After finishing 22-15 last season, the Bulldogs will return all of their players this season except for first baseman Gillian Jones who graduated in 2018. The Bulldogs will also welcome back pitcher Lydia Miller. The junior missed all of last season after suffering a torn ACL during basketball season.
“Every year is a new adventure,” said coach Red Stafford. “We have a lot of experience coming back and I’m really looking forward to this upcoming season.”
Catcher Karsyn Davis has already signed her National Letter of Intent to play softball at Southeast Missouri State University. Fellow senior Madeline Rider also signed her National Letter of Intent to continue her softball career at Western Kentucky University.
Essence Sanders is returning this season after winning 22 games last year. Freshman Kerrigan Payne has also shown some flashes during practice for the Bulldogs.
“We have a lot of returning players with experience,” said Stafford. “We play in a tough conference with teams like Carterville, Vienna and West Frankfort who are all pretty darn good ball-clubs. Each season is different because there have been years where I thought we didn’t have enough experience but we ended up playing well regardless. I have a good feeling about this year’s team.”
The Carterville Lions are coming off a 17-14 record in 2018. They fell short of playing .500 level softball in the River-River Conference with a 4-6 record. The Lions will be playing in class 3A this season before returning back to 2A in 2020-21.
“Marion is going to be a load this season with a Division I level third baseman and a good pitcher with high velocity,” said Coach Will Capie. “Massac County is another one of those teams that has a group of players who won a championship together back in junior high.”
Carterville is still a young team with just three returning seniors — only one of which who has real starting experience. Already dealing with some minor injuries, the Lions hope to regain their health sooner rather than later.
“I can’t really ask the seniors to do any more than they already are,” said Capie. “They’re all hungry to win this season and they’ve been helping out the younger talent on the roster to get the team mentally and physically ready for the season.”
The Lions had a couple players breakthrough for them last season. Five returning juniors and one sophomore will be in the starting lineup this season and the team is expecting a big year from junior Abbey Crain.
The Herrin Tigers posted a 15-12 record last season. The Tigers finished 6-4 in the River-River Conference and look forward to getting a shot at redemption this season.
“Our first goal is to win the conference,” said Coach Angie Jilek. “We finished second last year but we’re disappointed in the fact that we lost two very close games with Massac, the conference winner. We won the regional and are motivated to be competitive in the post season once again.”
The Tigers have two returning seniors between Reagen Gosha at third base and Tori Schullian at shortstop. Schullian signed to play at SIU next fall. Herrin is returning seven starters; Hannah Bramlett, Molly Childers, Whitney Keel, Caitlyn Kochan and Ali Paintner. But Childers and Paintner will primarily be playing in different spots to start the season. Kochan is out with a shoulder injury.
“We’ve had to move kids around to cover her (Kochan) spot at first base,” said Jilek. Presli Karnes has been working hard in practice trying to fill her spot.”
Karnes is a freshman who can play several positions on the infield as can Childers. Freshmen Taylor Cornelius and Ragen Deaton will also need to jump into the fire and be contributors in the field and at the plate. Paintner is a junior who will pitch along with freshman Erica Wells, with junior Miranda Jordan rounding out the pitching staff.
“In the conference, Massac County and West Frankfort may be the teams to give the most teams fits,” said Jilek. “Harrisburg is always well coached by Red (Stafford) and will be competitive. This conference is competitive top to bottom. Outside the conference, rival Marion will be solid. They have D1 hitters we have to face and you can’t make a mistake in the strike zone or the ball goes a long way. Goreville will be a challenge. They are well balanced in all facets of the game.”
The Marion Wildcats enter this season following a 27-5 performance in 2018. The Wildcats also finished 9-1 in the South Seven Conference and 18-1 at home.
“I think we’re going to be just as competitive this season as we were last year if not more,” said coach Joy Neal. “We play several schools with a lot of talent like Carbondale and Centralia and it’s always a fight.”
The Wildcats come into the year missing three seniors from last year’s squad. Keira Hance had a good year last season as a junior. Kaylee Evans is expected to be playing all over the field. Andrea Roberts will see time in the field and at the mound.
“We’ve been preparing,” said Neal. “We’re excited to get out there and play on Wednesday.”
Marion had one of the most talented rosters in the conference last season. Their season came to an end following a 7-5 upset to Herrin in the Regional Finals.`