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MOUNT WASHINGTON – The Bullitt East Lady Chargers have long memories when it comes to the way the 2013 season concluded.
That is a good thing. The red and gold have used that as motivation in the off-season and it is already paying dividends.
Last year, coming off the Sixth Region title, the Lady Chargers had a sparkling 32-4 record. Then in the 24th District title game, the red and gold lost a 4-3 classic 12-inning game to new arch-rival Mercy. A week later, the season ended with a 2-0 setback to Butler in the semi-finals of the Sixth Region Tournament.
This spring, coach Ricky Hoffman’s team went out and opened the season with a dominating 8-0 win over Butler on the road.
There will be a lot more opportunities for the Lady Chargers. Of the top 11 teams in the pre-season coaches’ poll, the red and gold will play nine of those teams this season. Bullitt East is in that group also, so the only team not on the schedule is Scott County.
Of course, the game that most of the players circled will take place on April 21 when the Lady Chargers travel into Louisville to take on Mercy. The Jaguars finished as the state runners-up last year, falling to Greenwood in the final. Bullitt East will play Greenwood on April 26 in Mount Washington as part of a three-game ‘triangle’ event that will also include Pleasure Ridge Park.
With seven starters returning this season, including both number one pitcher Morgan Raymer and top catcher Kelsey Gravens, Hoffman has no doubt that the program can handle the tough schedule.
“The expectations are high,” Hoffman said without a change in his facial expression. “I think this team and their family-like style can handle the expectations.
“We want to treat every game like it’s the state championship game,” the coach added. “We want to think we’re playing the number one team in the state. We may not win every game, but we want to treat every game like the biggest game of their life.”
Hoffman is preparing for the post-season.
“The pressure of being in games with top teams should make us ready for tournament time,” the coach pointed out. “Win or lose, playing the top teams gets us ready.”
Bullitt East is sort of like a ‘doughnut’ team this season as the program has seven seniors and only one junior amongst the 28 players on the roster. The team only had two seniors last season.
The Lady Chargers return one of the state’s top pitchers in senior Morgan Raymer, an All-State selection last year. Still, Hoffman says that junior Loren Roby and eighth-grader Taylor Roby (the two Robys are not related) will see time in the circle at the varsity level.
“I expect to pitch all three on the varsity level,” the coach said. “We won’t have a rotation, but they all could see plenty of team pitching for the varsity.”
The pitching staff will be even stronger because the program has two impressive senior catchers. Kelsey Gravens started every game last season and developed into one of the top players in the area. Gravens wasn’t expected to be the lead catcher when last season started, but was moved into the role when Kayla Raymer (Morgan’s twin sister) suffered a foot injury, not returning until late in the season where she played mostly at first base.
Now, Gravens will be the starter while Kayla Raymer will play in the infield. However, Kayla will get a few chances to catch this spring.
Hoffman thought he was pretty much set in the infield late last week, but that had all changed by the weekend. On Friday, he had senior Molly Lucas at first base with freshman standout Lindsey Renniesen returning at second base. That would put Kayla Raymer at shortstop and sophomore Emily Salyer at third.
As it turned out, in the warm-ups for the Butler game, Salyer was hit in the mouth with a ball and could not play. Hoffman moved Renniesen to shortstop and Kayla Raymer to third and inserted freshman Karli Yarbrough in the spot at second base.
Two days later, Taylor Roby got the start at second and responded by hitting three home runs on Saturday in a 7-6 win over Woodford County. So, the coach has options in the infield.
In the outfield, one of the new starters will be sophomore Shelby Maros in left field. Bullitt East lost Nikki Hinkley to graduation and she was the team’s lead-off hitter and played in center. Maros will take Hinkley’s lead-off position.
In centerfield, senior Bri Hare has moved from left field into center. Senior Shelby Harris returns as the starter in right field.
The seventh senior in the program, Jeri Bogard will also start as she will be a designated hitter for one of the starters in the field.
The other players on the 17-member varsity roster will see mostly spot duty. Freshman Hannah Dahl can play at third base and will be a courtesy runner. Sophomore Grason Gasser will run and be a pinch-hitter while freshman Jordan Goers and sophomore Savanah Hagan will be pinch-runners.
What will it take for Hoffman to see this as a successful season?
“For me to be happy, it would be for the team to still be a family,” the coach concluded. “Secondly, a district and a regional championship. Then, not only a good showing in the state tournament, but to make it to the end.”
Bullitt East returns its assistant coaches in Tim McClure, Randy Lutes and Sam Price.
The Lady Chargers have already posted a 3-0 start to the season. The red and gold opened with the 8-0 win over Butler and then on Saturday beat Assumption 4-0 and Woodford County 7-6 in a ‘triangle’ set of games.
Bullitt East played the first of those top-11 teams in the state on Tuesday when they hosted Male. This week will end with the Lady Chargers making the short trip to North Bullitt to take on the Lady Eagles on Friday with the varsity game set to start at 5:30 p.m.