CHARLOTTESVILLE — After three straight sectional and Mid-Eastern Conference titles, the Eastern Hancock Royals softball team doesn’t appear t0 be letting up anytime soon.
“We lost some big pieces, but I feel like we’ve reloaded,” Eastern Hancock coach Terry Stephens said. “I had really good players sitting on the bench waiting on their turn and I’ve got some freshmen coming in that are going to make a difference in our batting lineup and in the field.”
After not playing in 2020 due to COVID-19, the Royals have combined to go 48-7-1 and 16-0 in the MEC. They’ve won a pair of sectional titles, as well as the 2022 regional. In 2019, they had won sectional and conference titles after an 18-7-1 year.
The Royals will miss all-state center fielder Caroline Stapleton as well as graduated starters Taylor Koch, Kaylee Stewart, and Sydni Bednarski, but they return all-staters Sammie Bolding and Brooklyn Willis, as well as No. 1 pitcher Madison Stephens (Danville Area CC), All-Mid-Eastern Conference catcher Kaylee Kline (Danville Area CC) and a pair of multi-year starters in seniors Emma Bolding and Grace Stapleton.
Caroline Stapleton (Southern Indiana), Koch (Trine) and Stewart (Franklin) are all playing softball collegiately this season.
Sammie Bolding, the team’s shortstop, hit .579 with 17 home runs and 40 RBIs. Still only a junior, she also scored 47 runs and stole 33 bases.
Willis is another junior. An outfielder already committed to the University of Indianapolis, she’ll move from left to center to take over for the graduated Stapleton. She hit .519 a year ago with 10 home runs and 39 RBIs. She scored 42 runs and added nine doubles and 27 stolen bases.
Stephens was the ace of the 21-win team’s staff. She went 15-3 with a 2.00 earned-run average. In 94.1 innings pitched, she struck out 120. Kline hit nine homers, hit .380 and drove in 29.
Emma Bolding has committed to Division-II Saginaw Valley State. She had 12 extra-base hits a year ago and was third on the team with 33 RBIs. Grace Stapleton will likely choose basketball as her main sport at the collegiate level, but she’s more than solid on the diamond, too. She hit five homers and drove in 33 last season.
Juniors Tatem Adams and Emily Hodges got most of their playing time last season as pitchers. They are both expected to find a spot in the lineup this season. Both can pitch and play infield. They each had 3-1 records in the circle. Coach Stephens also likes freshman prospects Addisyn Trackwell and Lilli Ringer as possible starters.
“I’ve liked what I’ve seen so far in practice,” coach Stephens added about the newcomers.
Trackwell will likely take over at third base for Koch. Ringer is slated to play left fielder to takeover after Willis moves to center. Hodges is in line to take over for Stewart at second base.
Sammie Bolding (shortstop), Emma Bolding (right field), Grace Stapleton (first base), and Kline (catcher) are back at the positions they played last season.
Alina Alford, a junior, and Adams are possible DPs in the hitting order to start the season.
One of the biggest threats to the Royals’ win-loss record will be an upgraded schedule. To help prepare for the Class 2A postseason, coach Stephens has continued to upgrade his regular-season schedule in hopes of getting ready for another postseason run.
Along with the season-opener against Class 4A powerhouse and Hancock County rival New Palestine, the Royals will play a number of other Class 4A schools including Brownsburg, Warren Central, Lawrence North and always strong Pendleton Heights. They’ll get a good challenge with schools closer to their size with the addition of Hauser, Northeastern and Hagerstown, the latter two are part of Eastern Hancock’s sectional after recent realignment.
The realignment also included moving recent regional-rival Union County into the same sectional. They will also meet in a regular-season game at EH on May 4.
“We beefed it up,” coach Stephens said of the schedule. “We start with New Pal. We added Brownsburg, Hauser, which has a couple of D-I commits and we added Northeastern and Hagerstown with them now being in our sectional. Then we’ve got Union County and Franklin County. Some of our out of conference opponents are really, really tough.”
The veteran coach knows he has a talented team, but there is another big key for his team’s success.
“Staying healthy,” the coach said. “As long as we can stay healthy, the season goes quick, but is long at the same time, if we can stay healthy, the team is going to gel. Watching them in practice, the way they lean on each other, whether they’re freshmen or seniors, they’re all being leaders, that I’m not worried about. Our hitting is going to be fine. It’s just staying healthy and hoping our pitchers stay healthy.”
2023 Eastern Hancock Softball Schedule
March 20;at New Palestine;L/1-5
March 21;at Brownsburg;5:30 p.m.
March 22;vs. Hagerstown;5:30 p.m.
April 4;vs. Triton Central;5:30 p.m.
April 5;vs. Knightstown;5:30 p.m.
April 6;at Shenandoah;5 p.m.
April 8;at Lawrence North;10 a.m.
April 11;vs. Monroe Central;5:30 p.m.
April 12;vs. Warren Central;5:30 p.m.
April 13;at Cowan;5:30 p.m.
April 15;vs. Tri;10 a.m.
April 17;vs. Hauser;5:30 p.m.
April 18;vs. Blue River Valley;5:30 p.m.
April 20;at Wapahani;5:30 p.m.
April 25;vs. Daleville;5:30 p.m.
April 26;at Northeastern;5:30 p.m.
April 27;at Randolph Southern;5:30 p.m.
May 1;at Heritage Christian;5:30 p.m.
May 2;vs. Cambridge City Lincoln;5:30 p.m.
May 3;at Frankton;5:30 p.m.
May 4;vs. Union County;5:30 p.m.
May 5;vs. Lapel;5:30 p.m.
May 8;at North Decatur;5:30 p.m.
May 11;at Anderson;5:30 p.m.
May 13;at Franklin Co. Inv.;TBD
May 15;vs. Pendleton Heights;5:30 p.m.
May 16;vs. Wes-Del;5:30 p.m.