FORTVILLE — Veronica Kirby knew the 2021 class of softball players would be a special one.
“That class was huge. Their freshman year, I was like, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of girls. This is awesome!’” Kirby said. “It was the first year I had to really make cuts of girls that probably could have played.
“They’re a huge class, and talented, and not just in softball. That class all together is very athletic. Just look at what we’ve accomplished here at Mt. Vernon. Every spring sport has won their sectional.”
There are 10 seniors on this year’s team that not only won a sectional, but won the program’s first regional title since 2002. A lot of them were also part of the 2019 sectional championship team.
Six of the girls, Molly Buck (Anderson), Macey Cox (DePauw), Karlee Franklin (Huntington), Riley Hasseld (Davenport), Haley Kissee (Purdue-Northwest), and Madison Taylor (Ball State) have plans to play at the college level.
All 10 seniors have different roles, Kirby said, but all have been critical to the team’s outstanding chemistry, leadership and performance on the field.
Today, at 11 a.m. in the Center Grove Semi-State, Mt. Vernon’s 10 seniors and teammates will take on No. 8 Bedford North Lawrence (28-4) in the first of two games. No. 13 Columbus North (25-4) will play No. 2 Roncalli (28-2) in the second. The championship game is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Mt. Vernon (22-5) is one of eight teams still alive for a Class 4A state championship. Tonight, that group will be down to two.
“There were 15 or more, maybe even close to 20,” Hasseld recalled about the big group of classmates that tried out as freshmen. “It’s pretty much been this group for the last couple of years.
“I think (we have had success because) we want it for each other. We’re not out there playing for our own success. We want to get a hit because Maddie (Taylor) is pitching well and Maddie wants to pitch well because we’ve scored runs for her. It’s all about doing it for each other, and winning, we’re all competitive.”
The majority of the group will be in today’s starting lineup.
Hasseld is the team’s leadoff hitter and center fielder. She tops the club in stolen bases (16) and is second in batting average (.449).
Cox hits second and is in left field. She leads the Marauders with a .457 batting average and has six home runs.
Kissee is the No. 3 hitter and shortstop. She has eight homers, nine doubles and is second on the team with 40 RBI. She also has a .422 batting average.
Buck plays first base and leads the team with 11 home runs. She’s hitting .412 and has also done well as one of the Marauder pitchers (4-0, 1.47 ERA).
Taylor has been strong in the circle with an 11-2 record and 0.61 ERA. She has 135 strikeouts in 80 innings pitched.
They have depth in the circle, too, with Karlee Franklin, who is 6-3 with a 3.60 ERA and 87 Ks in 56.1 innings pitched. She was the winning pitcher in a sectional victory over Muncie Central and threw a nine-inning gem in winning the 2019 sectional title, also against Pendleton Heights.
Allison Myers is the team’s starting second baseman and another senior, Mia Robbins is the team’s designated player. Robbins had a two-run home run in the team’s sectional championship game victory over Pendleton Heights.
“A lot of us have played together even before high school,” Kissee said. “We have so much chemistry. We know how to play together, having those years of bonding and friendship, even before high school, helps us work together.”
Kirby said this strong class is, literally, strong girls.
They were all a big part of the strength and conditioning class that was headed by former football coach Mike Kirschner.
Kirby said along with her players getting better physically, they learned from Kirschner the importance of every repetition, which they carried over to the game of softball.
“They took that class and totally bought in and made it work,” Kirby said. “They understand that they have to make every swing, every throw count. There’s a purpose, reason for every play.”
The Marauders are No. 6 in the state in home runs with 52. The team earned run average of 1.78 is No. 24 among all classes. The home run ranking is best of all four teams in the semi-state (BNL is No. 8) and the ERA is second best to Roncalli (No. 5 at 0.66).
“We’re going to have to give 100 percent. We have full potential to win and we’re going to have fun,” Kissee said of the semi-state tournament. “If you give your best a positive outcome will come. I think we all know how to do what we do. We’re all excited for (today).”
Through the course of the season, Kirby said the senior-led team has had a better understanding of their roles. She said it’s really helped them get through the tough times and overcome adversities.
Both sectional (Pendleton Heights) and regional championship (Lawrence North) victories were against teams that had beaten them in the regular season.
“We embrace that — in the post-season when it matters most — we’ve come together as a team and accepted the fact that it is going to take all of us,” Kirby said. “At some point, somebody is going to have their shining moment. You’re not always going to have yours, but that’s OK, as long as we compete together as a team, pull our own weight, then we’re going to have a lot of success.”
“They had to figure out roles, what works best,” Kirby continued. “They all can’t lead the same way, that doesn’t work. The chemistry on this team is, by far, the best it has ever been. We’re clicking and getting it done. I attribute that to the 10 seniors.”