|Bluebirds Aim to Return to Region Championship Form|
|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands junior Rachel Gabbard makes a play at first last season. Gabbard brings four years of starting experience to the team.|
But like anything in life, things could have been worse for the Highlands Bluebirds softball team. The Bluebirds fell to 12-18-1 for their first losing season since 2012 losing 12-5 to Newport Central Catholic in the 36th District championship game before losing 5-1 to Dixie Heights in the 9th Region quarterfinals.
Only two seniors in Kara Fornash and Jenna Martin graduated from that team. Martin is playing basketball at Kentucky Wesleyan University in Owensboro.
Highlands still managed to capture the top seed in the district tournament. The Bluebirds had won region championships in 2014 and 2016.
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The good news is two of those starters lost have come back out this year after not playing last year. Junior Morgan Coffey will play left field and sophomore Abby Rust will also play in the outfield.
Three players come back with three or more years in the starting line-up. Junior Rachel Gabbard broke into the starting line-up in the seventh grade and will play either second or first base and senior Josie Daley started some in 2014 in the eighth grade and will play catcher, third base or designated hitter. Senior Brooke Dill brings three years of starting experience. She will play center field or shortstop.
"I'm just trying to tell them to keep doing what our coaches have told us and stay strong as one unit and not different little cliques," Gabbard said. "It takes one strong unit to win as much as we can this year and I'm trying to do everything the previous leaders that I've had for the younger girls coming up this year."
Defense played a huge role in leading the Bluebirds to those two region titles. Highlands hopes to return to that form this year. One bad inning often cost the Bluebirds last year.
"We showed the kids who we'd feel comfortable putting on the field defensively," Coach Coffey said. "It was three, four deep at every spot."
Highlands again has a nice mix of grade levels between the seventh grade and senior glass. Three eighth-graders who started last year return in pitcher/first baseman Gracie Schlosser, center fielder Anna Greenwell and catcher/third baseman Addie Mack. Schlosser took over the pitching role, but could share time with seventh-grader Kennedy Baioni in that role this year.
"Last year, we didn't have a very good team chemistry that we've had the past few years," Daley said. "We argued a lot. We didn't really get along very well and I ultimately think that affected how far we were able to get in the region. Last year we didn't really have a leader to do that, whereas in the past, we had the Kendall (Turner's) or the Ashey (Grosser's) who weren't afraid to take someone aside and call them out when they were doing something to hurt the team. But this year, we'll have some girls call people out when they're having a rough game and tell them they need to get over it."
There are nine seniors total on the team. The other seven seniors are utility player Ella Grimm, pitcher/outfielder Ella Greiwe, infielder/designated hitter Maleah Abner, first baseman/outfielder Alyssa Dixon, outfieder/third baseman Baylie Ormes, outfielder/pitcher Becca Breen and first baseman Liz Mairose.
Three more sophomores and two freshmen could also battle for playing time. The sophomores are second baseman Taylar Lorenzen, second baseman/outfielder Piper Macke and catchet/infielder Brittney Johnson. The two freshmen are outfielder Caroline Class and catcher/third baseman/utility player Brianna Tharpe.
Highlands again plays a tough schedule. This includes the regular region challengers and several teams from Ohio.
"We always try to put together a good schedule," Coach Coffey said. "We don't want to travel around too much so we don't spend a lot of money. But we don't want to shy away from anybody."
Highlands opens the season March 20 against Campbell County. Game time is 5 p.m. at Winkler Field.