It didn't take long for the Central Crossing High School softball team to turn its focus to this season after losing to eventual state champion North Canton Hoover 12-0 in five innings in a Division I regional final last year.
Despite losing a strong senior class led by pitcher Savannah Dorsey, the Comets again have high expectations after finishing 26-4 overall and 13-0 in the OCC-Central Division and reaching their second consecutive regional final last season.
Central Crossing, which lost to Gahanna 4-3 in a regional final in 2011, opens at home against Briggs on Monday, April 1.
"We're starting to say: 'New team, new dream. New year, no fear,'" fourth-year coach Rona Dorsey said.
According to coach Dorsey, four players, including three freshmen, are vying for time in the circle in place of her daughter, who had a 25-3 record with 345 strikeouts last season and finished with 1,114 career strikeouts. Now playing at Ohio University, Savannah also had a .404 batting average with five home runs a year ago and was named first-team all-state and district and OCC-Central Player of the Year.
Competing to fill the void are junior Abby Rhodes (P/2B/SS) and freshmen Cassady Coukart (P/1B), Allyson Gruen (P/1B) and Sydney Humphrey (P).
"I have three freshmen pitchers who I've known growing up," coach Dorsey said. "They're not 6-foot like Savannah, but they're going to be effective on the mound."
Rhodes is one of six returnees. The others are senior Kristen Merz (OF) and juniors Alison Amos (RF/1B), Michaela Dorsey (SS/C), Jackie Fowler (3B/OF) and Hunter Taylor (C/3B).
Michaela Dorsey, who is Savannah's sister, batted .414 with 15 stolen bases last season and was second-team all-league and all-district. Fowler hit .400 with 33 RBI and was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district, and Taylor batted .273 and was the team's Most Improved Player.
Also on the team are seniors Molly Ballard (LF) and Morgan Kulp (OF), juniors Jane Pyles (OF), Courtney Ringhiser (C/utility), Jessica Rodgers (2B/utility) and Felicia Smith (SS/2B) and sophomore Maddalynn Bourne (OF).
"I'm very excited because we get to see a whole new level of development from some kids," coach Dorsey said. "The juniors on this team have been part of the making of the history of the program. This is their third year and they've shared every year earning more wins than the team before."
In the district tournament last season, the Comets defeated Chillicothe 11-0, Pickerington North 11-1 and Olentangy Orange 4-1 in a final on Savannah Dorsey's three-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Central Crossing then beat Pickerington Central 4-0 in a regional semifinal before losing to Hoover.
The Comets won the OCC-Central title, finishing ahead of Thomas Worthington (11-2), Worthington Kilbourne (9-4), Hilliard Davidson (6-8), Dublin Coffman (4-9), Upper Arlington (4-10), Hilliard Darby (4-10) and Westland (2-10). Not all teams completed their league schedules.
As part of OCC realignment, Olentangy Liberty and Marys-ville joined the OCC-Central and Darby and Kilbourne moved to the OCC-Cardinal.
"Nothing is going to come easy," coach Dorsey said. "Our kids are going to have to play defense and hit the ball and hopefully create some runs along the way."
Greyhounds return experienced lineup
Grove City returns 12 players from last season, when it finished 25-4 overall, won the OCC-Ohio championship and reached a Division I regional semifinal before losing Hoover 3-1.
The Greyhounds open Saturday, March 30, with three games in the Riverdale Classic in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
"I'm pretty pleased with what we have coming back from last year and the new additions," 13th-year coach Ted Williams said.
The Greyhounds return seniors Ashton Salyers (CF), Haylea Garner (SS/2B) and Natalie Mabry (C), juniors Rachel Ash (3B), Emma Cornell (P/designated player), Jordan Kennaw (P) and Lynsey Long (OF) and sophomores Kennedy Beach (C), Destini Ewing (2B/SS), Katie Gleich (OF/2B), Makenzie Torres (C/designated player) and Kara Warren (3B/OF).
Salyers had a team-best .495 batting average with 38 runs and 14 stolen bases last season and was first-team all-state and all-district and OCC-Ohio Player of the Year. Cornell was 14-2 with a 1.94 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 90 innings and was first-team all-district, and Kennaw was 7-2 with a 2.11 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 69 2/3 innings and was honorable mention all-district and second-team all-league.
Beach hit .354 with 22 runs and 21 RBI and was second-team all-league.
Also on the team are juniors Bree Kilgus (P) and Delaney Mixer (OF/3B), sophomores Rickie Asher (OF), Allie DiLisi (P) and Kristen Taylor (2B) and freshman Mara Kilmurry (OF).
"We should be able to move the ball," Williams said. "I think we'll put up runs like we did last year. I have both of my pitchers back and up the middle we have everybody back. You want to be strong up the middle and we're returning everybody there, so that's a positive."
Last season in the district tournament, Grove City defeated Olentangy 12-2, Groveport 8-4 and Teays Valley 4-3 in a final.
The Greyhounds went 13-1 in the OCC-Ohio a year ago, finishing ahead of Pickerington Central (12-2), Gahanna (9-5), Lancaster (7-7), Groveport (6-8), Pickerington North (6-8), Newark (3-11) and Reynoldsburg (0-14).
"Our (league) is probably one of the toughest in Ohio," Williams said.