The Panthers are confident that they have a winning formula this season after graduating just one starter from a 15-10 squad.
“I’m pretty excited,” Western coach Jim Clouse said. “Basically, we return all of our starting lineup except our catcher who graduated last year. She was our only senior.
“We’ve had eight consecutive winning seasons and building on what we had last year, I think we’ve improved in several positions. Some of our young kids coming up have varsity experience. I feel like I have a sound player at every position defensively, and a person that can back them up.”
The team is counting on plenty of strengths with very few question marks.
“I’m expecting [pitcher] Erika Beeler to have a great season,” Clouse said. “She’s continuing her career at Anderson [University] next year, which has pumped her up mentally. She’s really focused on having a great season on the mound.
“Defensively we’re as sound at every position as we’ve ever been and this is my ninth year. As a hitting team we’ve improved.”
Beeler had a 2.45 ERA last season in 106 1/3 innings with 127 punchouts. Sophomore Abby Renken is the new starting catcher. And freshman lefty Lexy Sanders is another pitching option.
Moving through the batting order, senior shortstop Evie Glover (.382 average, .515 on-base percentage) has the leadoff spot. Sophomore Brooke Strunk hits second after leading the county with a .488 average and 13 doubles as a freshman. She can play outfield, middle infield, or pitch. Junior second baseman and backup catcher Jenna Wiechmann is hitting third. She led the county with 24 RBIs as a sophomore.
The four and five spots are held by senior first baseman Caitlyn O’Neal (.313) and senior center fielder Carley O’Neal, who can flip flop in the order. Sophomore pitcher and outfielder Cali Shepherd hits sixth.