There’s a new look to softball this season – or it might be more accurate to say a longer look.
The season has already kicked off for several teams across the state, and two local teams get their seasons started this week with Western Hills at home Tuesday and Frankfort High on the road Thursday.
Franklin County opens its season at home March 20.
Here’s a look at the three local teams and what to expect from each this season.
The Lady Wolverines were competitive all last season, and no where was that more evident than the district tournament where the Lady Wolverines captured the title despite a losing record.
Now WHHS adjusts to life without its starting pitcher, Krystal Cammuse, who graduated last year and is now playing at Saint Catharine College.
“Since I’ve been here we’ve had great pitching, pitching that can keep us competitive in every game we play,” WHHS coach Jeff Pritchett said.
“Losing Krystal Cammuse to graduation left a big void to fill, but we feel confident we have three good quality pitchers who will get the opportunity early on to show us who will take the mound down the road.”
Those pitchers are Torey Hawkins, Taylor Slade and Brooklyn Etherington. Slade and Etherington were starters last year.
“The three complement each other very well and should keep us in ballgames,” Pritchett said.
Cammuse was one of two senior starters who graduated last year. The other was Autumn Lancaster.
“Krystal and Autumn were two key components of what we did last year,” Pritchett said, “but you ask any coach who returns seven starters and he’s not going to be too disappointed.
“We’re excited about the opportunity to show what we can do as a team. In the past we’ve been able to rely on one or two people to keep us in the game with pitching, but this will be a total team effort every time we step on the field.”
The Lady Wolverines have three seniors – Elizabeth Owens, Sawyer Coffey and Alyssa Hensley. Owens started at shortstop and Coffey in right field last year.
This is Owens’ seventh year in the program, and she recently signed to play softball at Transylvania.
“She’s put in a lot of work and effort,” Pritchett said, “and Sawyer started in right field and did a real good job.”
The other returning starters are Tabitha Barnes, McKenna Brown and Shelby Morris.
WHHS has the earliest starting date of any of the local teams, opening at home Tuesday against West Jessamine.
“I don’t mind scheduling games, but it’s all about the weather,” Pritchett said. “You can really spread games out as the season progresses, and you can play two games a week instead of three a week and keep some open for rain dates.”
The earlier starting date also opens up more practice time.
“Once you open play you may see something you need to work on that you’re only going to see in a game situation,” Pritchett said, “and this allows the coaches to go in and work on that with a couple of extra practices.
“You can practice all you want, but you can’t simulate games.”
Now the Lady Wolverines are hoping to build on the momentum they had at the end of last season.
“It’s a good starting point the way we finished the season last year in the district tournament,” Pritchett said. “We had our ups and downs but as the season progressed we continued to improve, and we peaked at the time you want to peak.
“As a coaching staff you hope they’ve seen that success and come back hungry to do bigger and better things.”
There’s a youth movement afoot with the Franklin County softball team.
The Lady Flyers went 29-8-1 last season but graduated eight players off that team.
“We’re extremely young this year,” FCHS coach Tracy Spickard said. “Macy Johnson, a junior, may have the most varsity experience, minus Ashli.”
Ashli Mayes, the Lady Flyers’ starting third baseman, won’t be playing this year after suffering a knee injury and having surgery during basketball season.
“She’s going to be with us,” Spickard said, “and we’re looking for good strong, vocal leadership. She’s a coach and mentor for the younger kids.”
The youth movement starts with eighth-grader Sydney Wiard, who has started at shortstop for the Lady Flyers since she was in sixth grade.
“She has a lot of varsity experience,” Spickard said, “and she’s gotten a lot stronger.”
Among the players who graduated from last year’s team was all-state pitcher Emily Hampton, now playing for Transylvania.
The Lady Flyers return two pitchers from last year’s team – sophomore Kara Howard and freshman Ashley Hack.
“Between those two, they’ll throw all our varsity innings this year,” Spickard said.
“She’s stronger,” she added about Hack. “She’s a good-sized kid, and you can tell she’s stronger than last year as is Kara. She played a lot of ball in the off-season, playing with a traveling team over the summer, and she’s hit the weight room hard in the off-season.
“Kara is stronger than last year as well,” Spickard said. “They’re big shoes to fill. Emily had a stellar career, but I’m confident both kids can come out and do well for us.”
While the Lady Flyers have a young team this time around, Spickard isn’t using that as an excuse to ease up on their schedule.
FCHS will play in a tournament in Cookeville, Tenn., later this month that will have a field of 40 teams. The Lady Flyers’ Capital City Showcase, set for April 13-14, will bring in 20 teams, including several ranked in the top 20.
Other tournaments include the Kentucky-Tennessee Border Battle in Bowling Green April 20-21, Western Hills’ tournament April 27-28, and a tournament at Pleasure Ridge Park May 18-19, just before post-season play begins.
“My philosophy is the same,” Spickard said. “We play a pretty competitive schedule.”
The softball season has an earlier start time but Spickard has stuck with a more traditional approach, holding off on opening day until March 20 when the Lady Flyers will host Madison Southern.
“The big thing for us not opting to start off our season earlier is we have so many kids who played basketball,” she said.
“We’ve only had them at practice for a few days, and we have to give them time to be able to transition. They’re using different muscles, different instincts.”
Frankfort High’s softball team was young last year.
The Lady Panthers are still young this time around, but there are plenty of other changes for the team.
Angie Hutcherson takes over as head coach, replacing Mike Fitzpatrick, who coached for one year.
Hutcherson didn’t serve as an assistant under Fitzpatrick but has been an assistant coach with the program for six years.
This year the Lady Panthers have 24 girls out for the team, an increase of eight from last season.
“We had 16 kids last year and 14 are back,” Hutcherson said. “I’ve also added several girls who played in the past but didn’t play last year.
“I’m excited we’ve had some new and young talent that’s transferred from Elkhorn and Bondurant, I’m excited to have several move up from middle school, and I’m excited about those who have decided to play.”
FHS has three seniors this year, including veterans Shelby Aldridge and Aubrey Penn. The Lady Panthers had no seniors last year.
“Shelby will still pitch some, but she can play anywhere,” Hutcherson said. “She’s played for me in the summer and played first, shortstop, third, anywhere you want to play her.
“Aubrey can play any place but pitcher, and we have Macy Hutcherson. We have three solid players who can play about anywhere.”
Penn is the Lady Panthers’ starting catcher, and Hutcherson is also a returning starter.
The team’s other senior is Sheree Brown, who hasn’t played softball for FHS since her freshman year.
Frankfort has four juniors on this year’s team – Macy Hutcherson, Shanae Brown, Shauntae Brown and Shakera Butler. Of the remaining 17 players, 13 are freshmen or younger.
“We’re building a program, and that’s the only way to get up there with Western Hills, Woodford and Franklin County,” Hutcherson said. “You have to bring along younger players where you can build a program the way they do.”
The Lady Panthers have two young pitchers – Kayla Hortenbury who started at pitcher last year as a sixth-grader, and freshman Elizabeth Dunn, who transferred back to FHS from Western Hills this school year.
“At Frankfort High we have a lot of girls who are athletes, soccer players, freshmen who are coming out,” Hutcherson said, “and we’re excited about it.”
Hutcherson’s husband, Kevin, has been an assistant for last five years and will continue as an assistant along with George Aldridge and Steve Smoot.
“We’ve set some goals,” Angie Hutcherson said. “When I was hired they asked me what I was looking for this year. I said wins and losses are not necessarily how I set my goals.
“We’re a young team. We won one game last year. I’m very optimistic of a .500 season, but if we have seven wins that’s a fantastic season going from one win to seven.”
The Lady Panthers open their season Thursday at Williamstown. They don’t play at home until April 9 against Carroll County.
“Our goal is to walk on the field, heads held high, feel good about what they’re doing and feel good about what they’ve accomplished when they walk off,” Hutcherson said.
“These kids are going to surprise some people this spring. They’re aggressive, they want it, and they’re going to play with heart.
“They’re going to play as a team, and they’re going to give 110 percent every game. I don’t know how we’ll do in the district – this district is tough – but when they walk on the field they’ll give 110 percent, and when they walk off that’s all you can ask.”