FORTVILLE — Gazing up and down Mt. Vernon’s roster, Veronica Kirby notices the inexperience. Although unseasoned, the third-year head coach can’t help but see the talent, too.

Losing eight seniors has the potential to flip a program upside down. But that’s not what Kirby expects this season. She believes this bunch can be successful now.

With a hard-hitting catcher and multiple athletes spread across the diamond, Kirby and the Marauders aren’t looking to take a step back in 2017.

Senior Mackenzie McCann will lead the show from behind the plate and returns as the top hitter from last season’s 13-11 club. She hit .353 as a junior and finished with three homes runs, 16 RBIs and five doubles.

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“(McCann’s) leadership skills this year have been outstanding,” Kirby said. “She is talking behind the plate, the experience she got last year helped her so much. She had a great season.

“Each of (the girls) brings a little piece to the team, and they are just outstanding women.”

Joining McCann will be fellow seniors Makenzie Gee and Victoria Whyde. Gee will play third base and provides another productive bat to the lineup. She hit .317 last season and finished with 13 RBIs and 16 runs scored. Whyde logged the third-most innings for the Marauders in 2016 and will be the team’s No. 2 pitcher this season. Her 2.82 ERA in 22.1 innings of work led the team.

The team’s fourth senior, Macie Dungan, who hit .353 as a junior, will be unavailable due to an elbow injury.

For McCann, though, helping younger teammates will be just as important as her on-field duties. However, her big bat and steady defense — one error in 2016 — will provide undeniable support and stability.

“All of us work together well and there is a strong positive vibe, which was lacking last year,” McCann said. “(I will be) someone that the underclassmen can look up to and can give them advice.

“I can already tell we are going to be a strong hitting team.”

Junior hurler Kaitlyn Nugent will spend the most time with the senior catcher. Nugent worked with a new pitching coach over the summer and has a changeup Kirby is anxious to see against live competition.

As a sophomore, Nugent was 6-4 overall with a 3.94 ERA. She totaled a team-high 47 strikeouts and allowed just 17 walks in 69.1 innings.

“(Nugent) looks so much more in tune with her body,” Kirby said. “She just looks more calm and is carrying herself different this year. If she can do that, she is going to do well.

“And offensively, she is going to bring a huge bat to our lineup. She didn’t get many chances as a sophomore.”

Also expected to make an impact will be junior second baseman Jadan Fithian and junior center fielder Morgan Scruggs. Fithian is impressing Kirby more each practice, while Scruggs brings pure speed and former athletic success (soccer) to the team.

Shortstop Sydnee Perry has an impressive softball resume for a freshman and is already gaining respect of her older teammates, Kirby said. With Dungan out and Scruggs patrolling the outfield, the rookie will be tested at one of the most difficult positions on the field.

“(Perry) really knows the game,” Kirby said. “The girls have been really supportive of her.”

The only problem? They’ve yet to a play a game. Kirby said the team’s biggest weakness is its lack of time spent on the field together.

“Getting more time playing together will be our biggest obstacle,” she said. “But they really care about each other, and the willingness to be teammates is there.”

Mt. Vernon begins its season on March 30 at Cathedral. The team’s first county game will be at New Palestine on April 20. The Marauders play Greenfield-Central a week later on April 28 and host their own tournament on May 20.

2017 Softball Preview

Team: Mt. Vernon

Coach: Veronica Kirby

2016 Record: 13-11

2016 Results: The Marauders were 13-11 overall and 1-7 in the Hoosier Heritage Conference last season. Mt. Vernon beat Greenfield-Central 11-9 for its conference win before topping Warren Central in the first round of sectional play. The Marauders eventually lost to Cathedral 10-0 in the title game.

Key Losses: Sadie Baugh, Kristin Connors, Morgan Moss, Karly Van Slyke, Lauren Montgomery, Jennah Ruddick, Sara Pridgen.

Key Returnees: Mackenzie McCann (12), Makenzie Gee (12), Victoria Whyde (12), Jadan Fithian (11), Morgan Scruggs (11), Kaitlyn Nugent (11).

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Kris Mills is a sports reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 317-477-3230 or kmills@greenfieldreporter.com.