The Hilliard Bradley High School softball team is looking to bounce back after enduring its first losing season.
The Jaguars, who finished 8-14 overall last season, will have to do it against unfamiliar opponents as they moved from the OCC-Capital Division to the OCC-Cardinal as part of OCC realignment last summer.
Last spring, Bradley went 7-7 in the OCC-Capital to tie Big Walnut and New Albany for fourth, behind co-champions Delaware (12-2) and Olentangy Orange (12-2) and Mount Vernon (9-5) and ahead of Franklin Heights (2-12) and Watkins Memorial (0-14).
The Jaguars join Darby, Dublin Jerome, Dublin Scioto, Westerville Central, Westerville North, Westerville South and Worthington Kilbourne in the OCC-Cardinal. They open Friday, April 5, at home against Delaware and play Saturday, April 6, against host Davidson and Darby before beginning league play Monday, April 8, at Jerome.
"With this being the first year for us in this particular OCC division, I do not know a lot about the teams and their individual players," fourth-year coach Kevin Moody said. "I know from past experience that all of the Westerville schools have strong programs and Kilbourne has had some great teams in the recent past. Darby does have a solid team with a very good pitcher. I do not know much about Scioto or Jerome, but their coaches are solid and they get a lot out of their athletes."
Bradley, which lost to Upper Arlington 8-4 in the first round of the Division I district tournament last year, returns seven letterwinners in seniors Christina Hammons (CF) and Paige Wiley (RF), juniors Abi Groseclose (C), Ana Locke (LF) and Lindsey Love (P/OF) and sophomores Alex Day (2B) and Meredith Miller (SS).
Love and Miller both saw time in the circle last season, but by season's end Love had solidified herself as the No. 1 pitcher, allowing Miller to settle in at shortstop.
"Lindsey grew and certainly got much better and Meredith showed her potential," Moody said.
Miller led the team in batting average (.368), RBI (23) and home runs (8) and scored 12 runs and was named was first-team all-league and second-team all-district. Hammons batted .361 with a team-high 20 runs and 10 RBI and was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district, and Day hit .347 with 14 runs and was special mention all-league.
Groseclose (.318, 15 runs, 14 RBI) and Wiley (.303) also were key offensive contributors.
Junior Alyssa Bobbitt (P/1B) and sophomore Morgan Daniels (P/1B/3B) also are expected to see time in the circle.
"I believe that our defense has shown to be our strongest asset in our preseason," Moody said. "We have a strong returning middle with Groseclose catching, Miller at short, Day at second and Hammons in center. The other portions of our game are developing very quickly."
Others competing for playing time include junior Lindsay Mummert (3B) and sophomores Kennedy Poehler (C) and Ashley Rondy (1B).
Experienced Wildcats expect better results
Davidson returns nine letterwinners, including six starters, from last season, when it finished 10-14 overall and 6-8 in the OCC-Central.
The Wildcats, who lost to Pickerington North 5-2 in the second round of the Division I district tournament, underwent a coaching change.
Angelo Forte stepped down after 15 seasons and was replaced by Katie Speakman, who was a varsity assistant last season and is in her eighth season in the program.
Davidson opened April 2 at Olentangy Orange and begins league play Thursday, April 4, at Central Crossing.
"We want to continue to improve the program," Speakman said.
"We want to build onto the tradition and take the program even higher."
The returning starters are senior Taylor Moore (P) and juniors Alex Ashley (C), Charlee Clark (1B), Ally Doty (2B), Lizzy Doby (SS) and Lauren Strausbaugh (OF).
Last season, Moore led the team with a .426 batting average and had a 3.26 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 148 innings and was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district. Strausbaugh was second-team all-league and Clark was honorable mention all-league.
"Taylor Moore is our No. 1 pitcher. She's a righty and has been the starting varsity pitcher the past two seasons," Speakman said. "Taylor is still deciding between three Ohio schools for college. She will either play Division II or Division III. Our second pitcher is senior Hannah DePriest. She's also a righty and was on varsity last season."
Also back and expected to start are senior Michaela Cunningham (OF) and junior Emily Shank (3B). Others vying for playing time include sophomores Jenna Higgins (OF), Michaela Stoltzfus (OF) and Olivia Tholt (OF) and freshman Cassidy Rowe (C).
"Higgins will play some outfield and be an important designated (player) in our lineup if she's not playing defense. She has an outstanding bat," Speakman said.
"We have experience at almost every position. These girls have been playing together for years and the majority of them were varsity starters last season. I think we have talent across the board -- hitting, defense, pitching and catching. We just need to work together and we will find our success."
The Wildcats placed fourth in the OCC-Central last year, behind Central Crossing (13-0), Thomas Worthington (11-2) and Kilbourne (9-4) and ahead of Dublin Coffman (4-9), Upper Arlington (4-10), Darby (4-10) and Westland (2-12). Not all of the league games were completed.
Darby and Kilbourne moved to the OCC-Cardinal and were replaced by Olentangy Liberty and Marysville.
"Our league is tough," Speakman said. "(Marysville and Liberty) are always excellent. Marysville won the OCC-Cardinal last season, so they'll be tough. We have always had close games with Thomas Worthington, Central Crossing and Upper Arlington, too."
McCullough among returnees for Panthers
Darby is looking to improve on last season, when it finished 5-19 overall, tied for sixth in the OCC-Central at 4-10 and lost to 12th-seeded Canal Winchester 2-1 in the first round of the Division I district tournament.
The Panthers, who opened April 3 against Westland, have moved to the OCC-Cardinal. They begin league play Monday, April 8, at Westerville North.
"This is almost a brand new league for us, so it will be interesting to see what happens," fourth-year coach Erin McClincy said. "Westerville Central is coming off a strong year, as well as Worthington Kilbourne. The teams in our league all have solid, veteran coaches that prepare their teams well, so we're expecting impressive competition."
Darby has only one senior in Stephanie McCullough (3B), who was first-team all-league.
Other key returnees include juniors Savannah Pizzurro (P) and Abby Schuster (C). Last season, Pizzurro made second-team all-district and Schuster was special mention all-league. The two were among the Panthers' top hitters last season, McClincy said.
Pizzurro was not able to pitch as much as McClincy would have liked last year.
"She was sick and then injured her index finger on her pitching hand," McClincy said. "She could play through the pain in the field and hitting, but she couldn't pitch. We're happy to have her back this year."
Sophomore Lauren Buelow and freshman Logan Cortelletti also could pitch.
Other expected starters are junior Erika Boyd (1B) and sophomore Brittney Graessle (OF). Others vying for playing time include juniors Kerri Hay (1B) and Amelia Young (utility) and sophomores Aly Evans (OF) and Addison Sentner (1B).