The Groveport Madison High School softball team hopes to be hitting on all cylinders when it begins its quest for a third consecutive OCC-Capital Division championship.
The Cruisers open with 10 non-league games before playing their league opener April 10 against Franklin Heights.
"The girls want to three-peat to keep up with the wrestling team," fourth-year coach Chris Downing said. "We've talked about that often and we also want to give ourselves a chance to win a district championship."
Groveport is relying on a new pitching ace, as junior Ally Maddy replaces 2018 graduate Sara Gockenbach, a three-year starter who led the Cruisers to two league titles and two Division I district final appearances.
Last season, Gockenbach went 19-7 with a 1.81 ERA and 195 strikeouts in 146 1/3 innings and batted .370 with 23 runs scored, 18 RBI, three home runs and seven doubles as the Cruisers went 20-8 overall and 9-1 in the OCC-Capital and reached a Division I district semifinal before losing to Gahanna 7-3.
Gockenbach was named Player of the Year in the OCC-Capital as well as first-team all-district and second-team all-state.
Maddy was an outfielder last season, batting .380 and making second-team all-league. According to Downing, she is a different style of pitcher than Gockenbach.
"Ally isn't going to strike out as many batters, but she has faith in our defense and we return our entire infield," Downing said. "Her best attribute is her location. She can hit spots and she is the hardest working pitcher I've ever had. She stays after practices to work on things and takes her individual pitching lessons to heart. She's very dedicated."
The Cruisers are expected to be led at the plate by seniors Lanie White (SS) and Lexi Wright (CF) and juniors Milan Caldwell (1B), MacKenzie Maddy (2B) and Macie Sporleder (3B).
Last season, White batted .495 with 40 runs, 29 RBI and nine home runs and was first-team all-league and all-district, and MacKenzie Maddy hit .469 with 35 runs, 16 RBI and 14 doubles and was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
Sporleder (.352, 21 runs, 26 RBI, 3 home runs, 4 triples, 5 doubles) and Caldwell (.333) both were second-team all-league.
"We can pound the ball throughout the lineup," Downing said. "Seven of our nine hitters have the ability to hit home runs. I think we're good enough with our pitching, combined with great defense and superior hitting, to win a district championship. But we have to have that entire combination to make it work out."
Seniors Taylor Hill (LF) and Daryion Smith (C) also are in the starting lineup, along with freshmen Gabby Adams (RF/P) and Kendyll Cahill (designated player/P).
Also on the roster are sophomores Karli Nirider (INF), Grace Seipel (INF) and Olyvia Stith (INF) and freshmen Natalie England (3B) and Hannah Cline (C).
Groveport opened March 23 by splitting a doubleheader with visiting Dresden Tri-Valley, losing 16-15 and winning 4-2. The Cruisers played Hamilton Township on March 26 and Pickerington North the next day and will play host to Pickerington Central on Thursday, March 28.
Baseball team looks to build on last year
The baseball team has returned six letterwinners from a year ago, when it finished 14-11 overall to post its first winning season in 14 years.
The Cruisers have a new coach in Chris McKee, who spent the past five seasons as an assistant under Dave Eft. Eft stepped down after compiling a 49-75 record in five seasons.
"We have a strong front end of our rotation, but we need to develop some pitching depth and it could take us a bit to find our identity," said McKee, whose team opened March 23 with a doubleheader at Worthington Kilbourne, losing 11-2 and 6-3. "We'll try to find our way. We've got a nice mix of experienced juniors and some young talent, so I like what I'm seeing for the future."
Returnees include senior Logan Marburger (2B) and juniors Austin Gautier (C/P/OF), Robby Morgan (C/IF), Colin Rice (P/1B), Jeremiah Slonaker (CF) and Austin Snyder (SS).
Last season, Snyder batted .409 with 14 runs, Marburger hit .306 with 18 runs, Slonaker batted .278 and Gautier hit .250 with 14 runs and 13 RBI. Gautier was special mention all-OCC-Capital and Snyder was honorable mention all-league.
"Our lineup will be led by some guys with plenty of varsity experience," McKee said. "Austin Snyder is an athletic leadoff-type hitter. Logan Marburger, Austin Gautier and Robby Morgan will anchor the middle of our order."
Rice was 2-1 in 17 2/3 innings pitched last season and is expected to be at the top of the rotation along with junior Trey Mantle. Gautier and sophomore Tyler McKee also are expected to be spot starters and be summoned in relief, along with junior Daniel Pagan and freshmen Aiden Barnhart and Kyle Jennings.
"We expect Trey Mantle to lead our staff," coach McKee said. "He is a tall strike-thrower with command of several pitches. Colin Rice is an athletic lefty with great movement and the ability to get big strikeouts. We are still trying to shore up the back end of the rotation. Tyler McKee looks to get some innings in relief and spot-starting roles."
Others expected to start are Jennings (LF) and sophomore Jamell Mitchell (RF).
Also seeking playing time are juniors Ryan Burke (2B), Josh Cahill (3B) and Tyrus Slone (1B) and freshman Tyler Love (OF).
Groveport played at Lancaster on March 27 and will return to action April 5 in its OCC-Capital opener at home against Franklin Heights. The Cruisers went 8-7 in the league last season.
"Like so many programs, our players have a strong bond," coach McKee said. "Most of these guys have been close friends their entire lives. That is one of my favorite things about high school baseball, the opportunity to represent a community with your closest buddies."
Below are the coming schedules for the Groveport Madison softball, boys tennis and track & field teams:
March 28 -- Home vs. Pickerington Central
March 30 -- Home vs. Hartley and Teays Valley
April 1 -- Home vs. Westland
April 2 -- At Delaware
April 3 -- Home vs. Grove City
March 28 -- Home vs. Westerville North
April 2 -- Home vs. Pickerington North
TRACK & FIELD
March 30 -- Newark Invitational
April 2 -- Home vs. Hamilton Township