The Reynoldsburg High School softball team returns some experienced players but also will feature a number of first-year varsity players.

The Reynoldsburg High School softball team returns some experienced players but also will feature a number of first-year varsity players.

The Raiders also underwent a coaching change in the offseason, as Shannon Brown was hired to replace Liz Daron, who stepped down after compiling a 33-65 record in four seasons. Brown had served as an assistant at Walnut Ridge since 2001.

Reynoldsburg finished 6-18 overall last season and went 1-13 in the OCC-Ohio Division, tying Lancaster for seventh behind Grove City (13-1), Gahanna (11-3), Pickerington Central (9-5), Pickerington North (8-6), Groveport (7-7) and Newark (4-10).

The Raiders lost to Logan 5-4 in eight innings in the first round of the Division I district tournament.

Senior Shanna Stauffer and juniors Sam Miller and Tiffany Ricks all have been starters the last two seasons. Juniors Bree Peters and Sarah Wheeler were starters last season as well.

Also back are senior Arus Glover and junior Keri Lemley.

Rounding out the roster are junior Elizabeth Craft, sophomores Mariah Clark and Nicole Dunst and freshmen Jessie Alianiello, Kyra Cane, Alex Huffman and Ashley Mauritz.

The Raiders had only one senior last season in Kayla Back, but their top pitcher, Mara Habak, didn't return after going 5-13 with a 3.27 ERA. Alianiello takes over as the No. 1 pitcher, with Huffman also expected to see time in the circle.

"Our pitching is young, so our defense will have to be strong," Brown said. "Jessie knows she has to throw strikes, and the defense has to be strong and fundamentally sound."

Last season, the Raiders allowed 84 earned runs but committed 58 errors that led to 66 unearned runs. However, they began to shore up their defense in the latter stages of the season, committing just five errors in the final five games.

Ricks, who has been the starting catcher the past two seasons and batted .340 with nine RBI last season, also could see some time in the circle and may play some infield. Dunst will catch when Ricks is not behind the plate.

Miller, who led the team in batting with a .413 average, returns at shortstop. She also led the Raiders with 31 hits, and scored 12 runs with seven RBI.

"Our defense will be strong behind our pitchers and once they realize their defense is strong, they will be more confident," Miller said.

Stauffer, who will start at first base, has played just about every position in her career. She had seven RBI last season. Peters, who played mostly in the outfield last season, led the team with 14 runs.

Lemley started at shortstop last season but has moved to the outfield, as Brown expects more balls to be hit to the outfield because of her young pitchers.

"With our young pitchers, I think there might be more action in the outfield," she said. "We need a strong arm and a sharp head there."

Brown expects the OCC-Ohio to be one of the toughest leagues in the area again this season. Defending league champion Grove City returns pitcher Paige Myers, a Miami University signee. Gahanna, Pickerington Central and Pickerington North all return a good portion of their teams, and Groveport, Lancaster and Newark are solid and improving.

But Brown doesn't want the strength of the league to be an excuse.

"I tell the girls that every night is an open night and we can walk away with a win," she said. "You can never quit, because anything can happen. We must play every game to the end."

Ricks believes team chemistry should be a strength this season.

"The team has been positive and more uplifting this preseason through things like conditioning and fundraising. It has brought us together," she said. "There's just more team bonding and doing stuff together, even with things like talking to each other during the school day and saying hi in the halls."

Brown said that is a big deal and will only help the team.

"People say this year the team feels more like a team than it has in a long time," Brown said. "I can feel it. We've also put the varsity and the junior varsity together and even do things like the varsity watching the junior varsity scrimmage last Friday."

Brown believes the Raiders could surprise some opponents this season.

"We have young pitchers, but we have a strong team if we work together and talk," she said. "I tell them all the time they are a lot better than they think they are. If we keep the defense strong and stay on our toes mentally, we'll be better than they think."

The players share that sentiment.

"We're better than we were last year," Miller said. "I think we'll have a better record than last year. We still have things to work on like communication on the field, but that will also get better as the season goes on."

"The girls' attitude is good and the freshmen on the team will surprise people," Ricks said. "The upperclass players will step up and fill in the open slots in the infield and outfield. We've all talked about having a winning season and keeping things uplifting and positive."

At a glance

•Coach: Shannon Brown, first season

•Next game: Monday vs. Grove City

•Key players: Sam Miller, Tiffany Ricks and Shanna Stauffer

SCHEDULE

March 29 vs. Worthington Kilbourne

March 30 at Fisher Catholic

March 31 vs. Delaware

*April 5 vs. Grove City

*April 7 vs. Newark

April 8 at Centennial

*April 9 vs. Pickerington North

April 10 vs. Licking Heights

April 10 vs. Whetstone

*April 12 at Lancaster

*April 14 vs. Groveport

*April 15 vs. Gahanna

April 17 vs. Northland

*April 19 at Pickerington Central

*April 21 vs. Grove City

April 22 at Worthington Christian

*April 23 at Newark

*April 26 at Pickerington North

*April 28 vs. Lancaster

*April 30 at Groveport

*May 1 at Gahanna

*May 5 vs. Pickerington Central

*OCC-Ohio game