Coach: Jason Stewart, 11th year
2015 record: 27-5
2015 results: 5-2 in Hoosier Heritage Conference, beat Pendleton Heights 4-3 to win sectional, lost 5-1 against Roncalli at regional
Story continues below gallery
Key Losses: Brie Whitaker
Maria Kihega, Sophomore., C
Michala Ballman, Junior, 1B/P
Jenna Young, Junior, 2B
Morganne Denny, Junior, 3B
Codey Miller, Junior, SS
Deena Miller, Senior, CF
Sara Morris, Junior, RF
Casey McDaniels, Junior, LF
Sydney Williams, Sophomore, P/UTL
Kinzie Bradley, Freshman, UTL
Mikayla Durick, Junior, P/DP
GREENFIELD — Last week while Greenfield-Central scrimmaged at New Palestine, Jason Stewart had to laugh.
It’s the only way the head coach can make sense of what has become the oddest preseason in his 11 seasons.
“I told (New Palestine head coach) Ed (Marcum), ‘I don’t even care what the team looks like, I just hope we can walk out of here and not lose any more people.’ Twelve batters into the scrimmage, my second baseman breaks her nose and gets a concussion,” Stewart said. “It’s gotten to the point of being comical. I’ve never had a year like it.”
The latest to hit the injury report, junior Jenna Young fell victim to a tricky hop while playing a grounder. She’ll be cleared to return soon, Stewart said, after she gets fitted with a protective fielding mask.
Good and bad news, but at this point, Stewart will take it with up to six varsity players out the past few weeks after the Cougars won their second sectional in five years and finished with an unprecedented 27-5 record in 2015..
Greenfield-Central’s mash unit has endured everything ranging from broken bones to dislocations and offseason surgery.
“Honestly, the lineup changes daily due to all of my injuries,” Stewart said. “We’re hopefully past that point and will start to get some kids back healthy, but it’s literally changing every day.”
Out of necessity, the Cougars have been more chameleon on the diamond since practice started March 7.
Anna Evans, a junior utility player, remains out with a knee injury. Starting senior catcher Erika Knapp is out for at least the first eight games this season, and backup catcher Maria Kihega was recently released to resume softball activity this week after breaking her wrist.
The biggest blow, however, wasn’t a surprise, but still hurts.
All-conference ace pitcher Darcie Huber is out for at least the first month.
The All-State duel threat had surgery in late January to repair a pinched nerve in her throwing arm. The Ball State signee is projected to hit and start throwing in late April and possibly pitch by June, but that is uncertain.
Last season, Huber led the Cougars with a .472 batting average, 32 RBIs, 13 doubles and nine home runs. She was nearly unhittable from the circle, going 20-2 in 23 appearances with 211 strikeouts, 13 complete games and a 1.15 ERA.
“We’ll have her back to hit, but we’re not sure if we’ll have her back to pitch or not,” Stewart said. “We’ll have to see how she progresses.”
Fortunately for the Cougars, depth and youth is on their side with only five seniors — three projected starters — on the roster as they look to change their approach to winning, not the result.
“We have to play better defense. I told the girls, ‘Darcie is kind of the eraser out there. She erases a lot of mistakes for us.’ We have to be better offensively and have to score more runs,” Stewart said.
All-conference juniors Michala Ballman and Morganne Denny will be relied upon to provide the necessary punch.
Ballman drove in 23 runners as a sophomore and hit .385 while Denny, an IPFW recruit, had 31 RBIs and a .440 batting average. Sophomore Sydney Williams joins the tandem in the heart of the order, again this year, after posting a .381 average last spring.
Junior outfielder Deena Miller, who hit .394 will be a factor, said Stewart, as the defending Hoosier Heritage Conference champions look to improve on their stellar .341 team average and 188 runs scored.
The task of replicating Huber’s numbers from 43 feet goes to the trio of Ballman, Williams and Mikayla Durick.
Ballman logged the most innings last year with a 5-3 record in nine appearances. She threw 42 frames and struck out 27 batters with two complete games and a 3.17 ERA.
Durick was 2-0 with a 3.35 ERA. Williams, who was primarily a reliever, will now move into the rotation.
“I was happy with both Sydney and Mikayla during the scrimmage. They both threw pretty well. They will get a lot innings, along with Michala,” Stewart said. “I have confidence in all three of them.”
The same goes for the team’s ability to regroup and compete, said Stewart, with the season opener this Monday at Speedway.
“It’s almost like Christmas when you get a kid back,” Stewart joked. “We’re still going to be a good team. Offensively, we’re going to be strong. It’s the same group for the most part that was a top-10 team and won 27 games last year. We just have to do it a little bit different.”
2016 Team Schedule
April 4: at Speedway, 5:30 p.m.
April 5: at Guerin Catholic, 5:30 p.m.
April 7: at Connersville, 5:30 p.m.
April 9: at Warren Central, 10 a.m.
April 11: vs. Noblesville, 7:30 p.m.
April 13: vs. Westfield, 5:30 p.m.
April 15: vs. Beech Grove, 5:30 p.m.
April 18: at Delta, 5:30 p.m.
April 20: vs. New Castle, 5:30 p.m.
April 21: vs. Rushville, 5:30 p.m.
April 22: vs. Batesville, 5:30 p.m.
April 26: at Shelbyville, 5:30 p.m.
April 27: at Yorktown, 6 p.m.
April 29: vs. Mt. Vernon, 7 p.m.
April 30: at Southport, 11 a.m.
May 4: vs. Shenandoah, 7 p.m.
May 5: vs. New Palestine, 5:30 p.m.
May 9: vs. Bishop Chatard, 5:30 p.m.
May 10: at Pendleton Heights, 5:30 p.m.
May 12: vs. Lawrence Central, 7:30 p.m.
May 14: Cougar Classic Tournament, 9 a.m.
May 16: at Roncalli, 5:30 p.m.
May 19: at Carmel, 5:30 p.m.
May 20: vs. Lawrence North, 7:30 p.m.