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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

2017 Highlands Softball Preview

Ladybirds hope to build on solid foundation

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands junior Brooke Dill makes the defensive gem against Dixie Heights last year. Dill is one of three returning starters for the Ladybirds.
Head Coach Rob Coffey knew this time would eventually come.

The Highlands Ladybirds softball team began practice on Feb. 15 without for major contributors in the last four-plus seasons. Shelby Graybill, Haley Coffey, Brennah Dutcher and Bailey Spencer helped Highlands to the program's first two 9th Region championships in school history. They all signed to play at the next level and Graybill is making a contribution at the University of Louisville.

But not only that, several key players from last year in senior Taylor Baioni, sophomores Chloe Jansen, Zoie Barth, Morgan Coffey and freshman Abby Rust decided not to return this year. But that does not mean Highlands will not compete for another region crown this year.

That leaves Highlands with a combination of youth and experience starting with its three returning starters in two juniors in catcher/infielder Josie Daley, shortstop/infielder Brooke Dill and a fourth-year starting sophomore in first baseman Rachel Gabbard. Dill started in the outfield the last two years.

"What folks don't know about us is we've been planning for this year for about three years," Coach Coffey said. "We've been creating depth the last three years knowing we were going to lose a great, experienced class. That depth is going to pay off for us this year."

Highlands finished 24-12 last year winning its third straight 36th District crown before taking out Ryle, 8-1 to win the 9th Region crown. The Ladybirds beat George Rogers Clark, 5-1 to open the state tournament before heartbreak set in the next day. Highlands led Daviess County, 5-1 in top of the seventh inning two outs from advancing in the winner's bracket. But the Lady Panthers scored seven straight to win 8-5. McCracken County then ended the Highlands season with a 6-2 win in the loser's bracket.

The biggest question mark entering the season comes on the mound. Three players in senior Jenna Martin, junior Ella Greiwe and seventh-grader Gracie Schlosser are hoping to step into that role. Greiwe said the pitchers have focused on hitting the spots in the off-season.

"The speed aspect is something that's coming along. But the strike part needs to come first," Greiwe said. "We need to be able to get it there in order to be able to enhance our speed and throw different pitches as well."

Coach Coffey said the defense should again be able to pick up the pitchers. The Ladybirds played it well all last year. He recently spoke to the players about mental toughness in practice.

"We have some room to grow there. We are turning over our roster some," Coach Coffey said. "Our number one message is mental toughness and execution. They don't have to make the outstanding plays. We just want them to make the basic plays."

That will especially be the case in the outfield. Senior Kara Fornash returns there after missing last year.

"We just need to make sure we hit our cut-offs," Fornash said. "If we make a mistake, we can't keep dwelling on that. We have to keep moving forward and doing what's best for the team."

Highlands has seven juniors on the roster. After Greiwe, Daley and Dill, the other four are second and third-baseman Maleah Abner, outfielder Alyssa Dixon, third baseman/outfielder Ella Grimm and first and third baseman Elizabeth Mairose.

But two freshmen and three seventh graders could also fill in the revamped Highlands offense. Freshman Taylar Lorenzen is listed at second base and Brittney Johnson could play catcher on another place on the infield. The other two seventh graders hoping to contribute are outfielder Anna Greenwell and catcher/outfielder Addy Mack.

"In the past, we don't want runners to get thrown out in front of Shelby and Brennah because anytime they're up, they have a chance to knock some runs in," Coach Coffey said. "We are going to be a very fast and aggressive base-running team this year. That junior class has been sitting in the wings waiting to take over. That's what's going to happen on offense."

Highlands opens the season Tuesday at Newport (2-0). Game time is 5 p.m.

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