Coach Steve Smith believes he has the makings of a winner in his second season leading the Johnstown-Monroe High School softball program.
The Johnnies, according to Smith, return a solid core group from a team that finished 8-14 overall a year ago after losing to second-seeded Bloom-Carroll 6-0 in its Division III district tournament opener.
What impressed Smith the most was the drive and determination shown by his players in the offseason.
"They are all coachable and have a great knowledge for the game," said Smith, whose team opened March 30 with a doubleheader at Duncan Falls Philo. "They have a great passion for the game and they really want to win.
"They are the most coachable girls that I have had around here (including nine seasons as an assistant). They are all good athletes and they want to be here. They have a lot of positives going for them."
The Johnnies return four starters in seniors Lauren Baldwin (OF), Keymell Cartwright (OF) and Kim Meyers (P) and junior Natalie Carpenter (SS).
Baldwin had a .490 on-base percentage and batted .284 last season. Cartwright played in five games before suffering a foot injury, and she was 9-for-15 (.600) with six stolen bases.
Other seniors are Dana Decenzo (2B), Kourtnee Derflinger (1B), Sam Epling (OF), Taylor Hickman (OF) and Karissa Hurst (INF/OF). Rounding out the roster are juniors Ashley Bush (3B/1B), Meghan Gall (C/OF), Hallie Grinstead (1B) and Rachel Shadwick (2B/OF), sophomore Courtney Fuller (INF/OF) and freshmen Maddi Lusk (P/3B) and Erin McConnell (C/3B).
"What we really have emphasized is the mental aspects of the game," said Smith, whose team opens MBC play April 8 at home against Utica. "We have worked really hard on hitting, and everyone put the bat on the ball in our scrimmage with (Marion) Pleasant.
"The best thing about our team is our speed. We have some really fast girls. If we get on base, they won't be standing around long because we have a lot of speed."
Last season in the MBC, the Johnnies tied Utica for fifth (6-8), behind Loudonville (13-1), Danville (11-3), Northridge (9-5) and Centerburg (7-7) and ahead of East Knox (4-10) and Fredericktown (0-14).
Baseball coach says team has good attitude
The baseball team returns several key players from a squad that finished 11-16 overall last season after losing to second-seeded Fredericktown 4-3 in the second round of the Division III district tournament. The Johnnies defeated Fairbanks 8-1 in the first round.
Johnstown went 6-8 in the MBC to tie Centerburg for fifth, behind Utica (13-1), Fredericktown (11-3), Loudonville (8-6) and Northridge (8-6) and ahead of East Knox (4-10) and Danville (0-14).
"I really like their enthusiasm and I think we have a good group with good camaraderie," second-year coach Tony Cleveland said. "They have high expectations of themselves. We'll have a young team and I like their approach to the game. They're working hard and I love their attitude."
The Johnnies have three seniors in Daniel Mark Almen-dinger (P/OF/INF), Preston Hiles (P/OF) and Scott Sammons (OF). Sammons has started for two seasons, but is out indefinitely after suffering a pelvic fracture in basketball season.
Returning juniors are Clayton Bullard (C/P; .269, 9 runs, 6 RBI, 2 triples), Jakob Cramer (2B; .272, 18 runs, 5 RBI), Harrison Johnson (C/3B/OF; .273, 6 runs, 7 RBI) and Josh Kirkpatrick (LHP/1B/OF). Sophomore Andrew Hollis (SS/P) also is a returning starter.
Newcomers include juniors Sam Branstool (C/OF/2B), Loren Queen (OF), Zach LaRue (P/INF/OF), David Schaller (P/3B/SS) and Nick Walker (INF/OF) and sophomores Brendan Barasch (OF), Trent Baughman (3B/P/C), Anthony Hollis (1B/LHP/OF), Cody Rayburn (P/3B) and Cody Walker (P/3B).
"I think defensively we'll be pretty good," said Cleveland, whose team opened March 30 with a doubleheader against Heath and begins league play April 8 at home against Utica. "I like our defense, but we need to work on our hitting. We have the kind of kids who will work to get better."