Lady Chargers will be young, but energized

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2009 Spring Sports Preview

By Mike Farner

MOUNT WASHINGTON - A year of familiarity with each other should pay dividends this spring for the Bullitt East softball program.

A year ago, head coach Ed Phelps was not hired until a few months before the start of the 2008 season. That made it a learning experience for the coach and his players throughout the season.

Now, the coach knows his players and the players know what to expect from the coach.

“It’s a good thing,” Phelps said as he sat in a dugout and watched his team practice last week. “It’s re-energized me as a coach because of how hard they have worked. They conditioned for four days a week from the first of the year until practice started (Feb. 15).”

Last year was a learning experience for everyone. The season ended with a 9-21 record including losses in six of the last seven games. The silver lining was the fact that the red and gold played perhaps their best game of the season at the end, falling to eventual 24th District champion North Bullitt 5-4 in nine innings in the semi-finals of the district tournament.

This year, the Lady Chargers are young, having just three seniors. There is a good sized junior class but then there is just one sophomore in the program.

Phelps and his coaches did pare down the roster some this year, keeping just 29 players. The program still has three teams, but with fewer players, that will provide more playing time for the ones on the team.

Bullitt East did lose a handful of players who competed last season. The most notable being junior Shelby Romine who opted to stick with basketball this spring instead of playing softball. Romine did a lot of the pitching last season, especially when Ashley Ploetner was hurt.

Now, all the pitching chores will fall to Ploetner, a senior. Ploetner had a sprained ankle early in practice but she should be ready to start the season.

“She is fine now,” Phelps noted. “She will do most of the pitching as far as the varsity is concerned. After her it goes to two freshmen and a seventh-grader.”

Ploetner’s style is more off-speed than throwing the ball past hitters.

“She is a finesse pitcher,’ Phelps said. “She throws about five different pitches and at different locations. She had worked real hard up until she sprained her ankle. She is in the best condition of her life.”

The two freshmen are Kayla Payne and Jamie Lutes. The seventh-grader is Morgan Raymer. Raymer pitched a few innings in varsity games last season.

The Lady Chargers return their starting catcher from last season, junior Jenna Simms, but Phelps wants to move her to a middle infield spot. The job behind the plate will instead go to her younger sister, Rachel Simms, a freshman. The younger Simms caught for the freshmen and junior-varsity teams a year ago.

Depth behind the plate will come from Raymer, senior Chelsea Roby and freshman Taya Rush. In addition, Jenna Simms could move back to catch some innings.

There is no question who will play first base as junior Erin Manns returns after a big season a year ago. She will be backed-up by freshman Kirsten Price.

Up the middle, the Lady Chargers will use Jenna Simms and junior Lavella Hall. The two players are both capable of playing shortstop or at second base.

The depth at both of those spots will be provided by the only sophomore in the program, Mericate Small.

At third base, junior Brook Hammons will get the starting nod. Price will be her back-up.

The other two seniors besides Ploetner will be in the outfield. Christy Ryan will return to play in centerfield while power-hitter Chelsea Roby will be in right. Freshman Taylor Price will be in left field.

Other candidates to play in the outfield include Small as well as freshman Kaylee McClure.

At this point, Phelps is looking to generate runs one at a time without looking for the big innings.

“I’d say we’ll have to play for one run here and there,” the coach said. “That was the big problem last year. That was the lowest scoring team I’ve been around. Two and a half runs a game was all we averaged.

“We lost a lot of one run games,” the coach added. “We lost to North Bullitt twice and each was by one run. Both were extra inning games.”

The goals for the 2009 team are pretty much the same as in the past.

“They want to win the district and go to the regional and be competitive in the regional,” Phelps said. “They saw last year toward the end of the season that Pleasure Ridge Park went to state and we were the last team to beat them in the region. So, we know we can be competitive.”

Bullitt East opened the season on Tuesday of this week at Spencer County. The team will then be home on Wednesday and Thursday to face Fern Creek and then Ballard.

Over spring break next week, the team will head to Fort Walton Beach, Florida for a tournament. A week later, the Lady Chargers will host the High-Five Sporting Goods/Bullitt East Invitational Tournament with eight teams taking part.