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MOUNT WASHINGTON - A stint as the Bullitt East softball Fall Ball coach turned into a full-time gig recently for Ricky Hoffman. Real recent in fact.
The resignation of former head coach Ed Phelps didn’t happen until late January. Hoffman was able to work with the program when practice started Feb. 15, but he wasn’t officially in the post until a few weeks ago.
The whirlwind romance is not a surprise. Hoffman has been around the Bullitt East athletic program the past few years since moving to Kentucky to work as a fraud investigator for the Kentucky State Office of Inspector General. His son, Jimmy, started the past three seasons for the Chargers and his father was the team’s official stat keeper.
During that time, Hoffman kept a close eye on the softball program even taking in a few games when the baseball team was not in action. That led to him coaching the Fall Ball squad six months ago. While Hoffman has coached girls/women in other sports, including coaching a college volleyball team, this will be his first time as a head coach for softball.
“There was an opening when coach Phelps resigned and I got a call,” Hoffman said as he watched his new team practice last week. “I was asked if I was interested and I said ‘sure.’ Now here I am.
“I knew everybody in the program except for a few of the seventh- and eighth-graders,” the new coach added. “I’m getting to know them now.”
Through the quick turnaround, Hoffman has put together a coaching staff made up mostly of fathers of the players. The junior-varsity coach will be Joe Simms while he has two volunteer assistant coaches in Tim McClure and Randy Lutes.
The freshman program is under the direction of former Bullitt East All-State basketball player and state champion track athlete Andy Anthony who did not play softball in high school, but was at one time one of the top slo-pitch players in the country.
Hoffman had 40 players show up for the first day of practice and he trimmed that number down to the 35 that are now in the program. There are five seniors but only one junior.
“I’ve been very impressed so far,” Hoffman said of his team. “They are working hard. I believe in the past some of them didn’t want to be here, but now they do. They are working hard and are focused. They are very excited about what is going on.
“The last three years I have watched them play and caught quite a few games,” the new coach said. “I have seen most of them play.”
The biggest question mark at this point is always the first-question for a softball coach and that is who will do the pitching? A year ago, senior Ashley Ploetner did most of that work.
There really is no varsity experience for any of the pitching candidates.
The first group that Hoffman is working with includes sophomores Jamie Lutes and Kayla Payne as well as eighth-grader Morgan Raymer. There is also a chance that eighth-grader Jessica Hannah and seventh-grader Lauren Roby could see some action, although, at this point they are not on the varsity roster.
“Our hardest thrower is the seventh-grader,” Hoffman said. “James has the most experience (through junior-varsity work). Jamie and Kayla pitched in the fall and did well. They are not overpowering, but they hit their spots well. We’ll learn a lot more on Saturday in our scrimmage with Eastern.”
The good news is that the young pitchers will be throwing to an experienced catcher in sophomore Rachel Simms who started last season. She will also be a key bat in the middle of the line-up. Sophomore Taya Rush will be the back-up.
The infield has three returning starters in first baseman Erin Manns, second baseman Brook Hammons and shortstop LaVella Hall. All three are seniors and all three started at those spots last year.
The new player in the infield is third baseman Kirsten Price who will also be the clean-up hitter. Back-ups in the infield include Rush as well as sophomore Taylor Price (the two Price players are not related) and eighth-grader Katlyn Scott.
In the outfield, the Lady Chargers would like to use sophomore Kaylee McClure in left field, but she is hurt right now. That will move Taylor Price, senior Jenna Simms and junior Mericate Small into the outfield slots. That group will be supported by senior Kayla Owen and Raymer.
The pitching rubber has been moved back from 40- to 43-feet for this season and all coaches expect more offense. Hoffman is expecting to need more offense while he sorts out his pitching situation.
“Because of the inexperienced pitchers, I think we’ll have to score a lot of runs,” the coach said. “I think we can do that. The hitting will be our strength. We’ll have a good defense which should help the pitching.
“We’ll be aggressive,” Hoffman added. “We have a lot of fast girls. We want to score a lot of runs so we’ll be aggressive. If we have to play small ball we can. We do have a lot of power from hitters two through eight.”
The first goal for this season is the one all the teams have.
“Our main goal is to win the district,” Hoffman said. “Our seniors haven’t won the district. Then after that anything can happen. We’ve had two straight 9-20 seasons. I think we can better that.”
The Lady Chargers will open the season on Monday when they travel to Bardstown. There is also a game at home on Wednesday against Spencer County. Bullitt East will find out a lot about where it stands on Thursday as they take on traditional state power Ballard in Jefferson County.