Groveport Madison High School softball coach Steve Cunningham believes that his team can contend for the OCC-Ohio Division championship and a Division I district title this spring if it limits its mistakes in the field.
The Cruisers, who opened April 1 against Westerville North, finished 17-11 overall and 6-8 in the OCC-Ohio last season and advanced to a district semifinal.
"We were solid defensively in the (district) tournament," said Cunningham, who is in his 25th season leading the program. "If we don't make mistakes behind (sophomore pitcher) Emilee (Downing), we're a solid team. We were up and down all year (last season). At times, we were our own worst enemy.
"Although we are still young in some defensive positions, I feel we should be a more solid defensive squad. Offensively, we still have some questions and need to develop a more aggressive hitting attitude. We have good potential and have shown growth through the preseason and scrimmages."
Downing is expected to lead the way for the Cruisers. Last season, she went 17-7 with a 1.80 ERA and a .437 batting average and was named first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
Other returnees are seniors Amy Castle (3B), Katie Fellure (1B), Molly Fraley (RF) and Cortney Husch (2B), juniors Destiny Bishop (LF), Tisha Lane (CF), Sam Maddy (designated player) and Kaysea Smith (C) and sophomore Brittany Kern (SS). Castle was honorable mention all-league last year.
Also vying for playing time are seniors Brooklyn Bartok (1B) and Paige Shoemaker (3B), junior Nicole Lash (P) and sophomores Makayla Bartzis (OF/SS), Shianne Curry (OF) and Amanda Madsen (P/OF).
Last season, Groveport tied Pickerington North for fifth in the OCC-Ohio, behind Grove City (13-1), Pickerington Central (11-2), Gahanna (9-5) and Lancaster (7-7) and ahead of Newark (3-11) and Reynoldsburg (0-13). A league contest between Central and Reynoldsburg was not completed.
Central and Grove City won district titles last season and Groveport, Gahanna and North were district semifinalists. Among the Cruisers' league victories a year ago was a 3-0 win over Central, which was ranked seventh in the state poll at the time.
Seeded 11th in the district tournament a year ago, Groveport defeated Dublin Scioto 7-1 in the first round and beat Lancaster 4-0 in the second round before losing to Grove City 8-4 in a semifinal.
"I think our (league) will be very competitive with Grove City, Gahanna and Pickerington Central being the favorites," Cunningham said. "Reynoldsburg, Newark, Lancaster and Pickerington North should all be improved this season.
"Our goal as a team is to contend for an Ohio Division title, as strong as our league is. We feel if we are a league contender, we also are a district title contender as well."
Baseball team looks to improve
The baseball team returns six starters from last season, when it finished 8-18 overall and 0-14 in the OCC-Ohio and lost to Watkins Memorial 7-2 in the first round of the Division I district tournament.
"Our goal this season is to win more games than we lose," fourth-year coach Dick Noble said. "We basically have everyone back from last season with the exception of our pitching and catching, but those are two big ingredients on any team.
"We're hoping that our defense and aggressive offense can keep us where we need to be until the pitching settles in. But it's a struggle, especially in the OCC-Ohio. Grove City, Gahanna, Pickerington Central and Pickerington North, those were your district champions right there (last season) and all four are in our league, so we want to win against Newark, Lancaster and maybe Reynoldsburg and then win some non-league games to get to .500 or better."
Groveport, which opened April 2 against Independence, finished last in the OCC-Ohio a year ago, behind Grove City (11-0), Gahanna (10-4), Pickerington North (9-4), Reynoldsburg (5-9), Newark (4-9) and Lancaster (4-10) as not all league contests were completed. Grove City was ranked first in the final state poll and was a state semifinalist.
The Cruisers, who begin league play Monday, April 8, at Gahanna, expect to be led by seniors Logan Mavromatis (RF) and Tommy O'Diam (3B). Last spring, Mavromatis had a team-high 30 RBI and O'Diam (3B) had a team-high .389 batting average and was named second-team all-league.
The other returning starters are senior Kyle Kitchen (CF), juniors Jake Seipel (P) and Cody Snyder (2B) and sophomore Jordan Spurling (SS).
Snyder batted .355 last season and Seipel is expected to be the team's top pitcher, with Spurling and junior left-hander Logan Goodman also being in the rotation.
Other key players include seniors Lyle Kyle (OF) and Lucas Trout (OF) and juniors Trent Kopala (C) and Isaac England (1B).
"I think if we stick together through league play and continue to play hard, we can have a winning season overall," Noble said. "Early on, though, we're going to need the defense to play well, we'll need timely hits and try to produce some runs. (Seipel and Goodman) struggled on the mound as sophomores and we're hoping to see some good improvement from them this year."