Could there be any more softball talent squeezed into Hancock County? It would be hard to imagine. Producing several top players from Central Indiana, the county again looks to be full of potential.
Each team finished with a record of .500 or better in 2016 led by Eastern Hancock (20-4), which was two runs away from a state finals berth. New Palestine finished 24-3 after a regional loss to Lebanon.
Reigning county player of the year, senior Morganne Denny, returns for Greenfield-Central (17-10) and Mt. Vernon (13-11) brings back a chunk of its lineup in addition to a talented freshman class.
With the spring sports season officially beginning this week, here are five players to watch.
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Morganne Denny Greenfield-Central
With Morganne Denny in the batter’s box, no softball will be safe this season. An IPFW recruit, Denny was named Hancock County Co-Player of the Year last season with New Palestine senior Issy Hoyt. She was also named ICGSA Third Team All-State in Class 3A/4A after hitting .526. Denny notched a team-high 50 hits, 11 home runs and 36 RBI and also finished with 11 doubles and 42 runs scored.
She struck out just four times all season. Denny was walked 16 times and produced a hit in every game but one. Although powerful at the plate, Denny is an athletic third basemen with a strong, accurate arm. She was also named to the All-Hoosier Heritage Conference team last season.
Peyton West Eastern Hancock
Few players are as versatile on a softball field as senior Peyton West. A Calumet College of St. Joseph recruit, West was set on IPFW (Division I) before a visit to CCSJ quickly changed her mind. Named all-county last season, West’s .444 batting average led the Royals. She finished with 36 hits, 23 RBI, eight doubles and three homes runs while anchoring the Eastern Hancock defense from her catcher position.
With a combination of power and speed, West also stole seven bases and scored 23 runs. She finished with a hit in all but two games last season and blasted a home run in the team’s semistate win against No. 1 Henryville.
With the graduation of center fielder Jordan Pierson and pitcher Darby Shaw, West could be seen playing more than one position this year.
Ashley Prange New Palestine
Although more than capable offensively, New Palestine junior Ashley Prange is a defensive magician. An Ohio State recruit, Prange routinely made all the plays at shortstop for the Dragons.
Consistently hurling the ball on a rope to first base, Prange finished with an .895 fielding percentage as a sophomore to go with 10 errors and 55 assists in 95 total chances. With incredible range, both with her arm and feet, few balls get past Prange.
Offensively, she was second on the team with five home runs last season and finished with 36 hits, 21 RBI and 10 doubles. A potential five-tool player in college, Prange also scored 40 runs and finished with a .371 average at the plate as the team’s leadoff hitter. She was named an All-HHC honorable mention.
Michaela Ballman Greenfield-Central
Michaela Ballman’s junior season started with several bangs. She blasted four home runs and drove in 10 RBI in one game last year and never seemed to cool off, knocking multiple hits in 11 games. She finished with eight home runs, 35 hits and 26 RBI after hitting .455. Ballman also scored 22 runs, which was second on the team, and finished with four doubles in an All-HHC season.
What makes her even more valuable, however, is her ability to pitch. Ballman was 3-2 on the mound as a junior and finished with 3.62 ERA in 60 innings of work. She totaled 33 strikeouts and walked just seven batters.
Madison Whitaker New Palestine
Madison Whitaker was just what New Palestine head coach Ed Marcum needed out of his four-hole hitter last season — consistent. A Wright State recruit, Whitaker led the Dragons with 12 doubles and finished with a .459 average at the plate as a junior. She added two home runs, two triples and drove in 29 runs for the potent New Palestine offense. Whitaker was third on the team with 39 hits and also scored 35 runs after striking out just five times all season.
Primarily an outfielder for the Dragons, Whitaker was named All-HHC and finished with one error defensively. She had two or more hits in 11 of the team’s 27 games and finished with a season-high five RBI in a win over Hamilton Southeastern.