By Matt Turer — @MattTurer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Each week, OzarksSportsZone.com will release local softball power rankings brought to you by CoxHealth. Like our other power rankings, these rankings will be based on dominance by Class, not head-to-head.
Recent success and strength of schedule are also factored into the rankings. These rankings are through games played on Aug. 29.
Overall record and Class are listed in parenthesis.
1. Willow Springs (3-0, C2)
The pitching and defense that carried Willow Springs within a game (a 1-0 loss, at that) of the Class 2 Final Four is showing itself early. The Bears have outscored opponents 23-3 with two Sydney Miller shutouts in the books. Miller hasn’t allowed an earned run yet, posting a 0.00 ERA with a 0.68 WHIP and 35 strikeouts in 19 innings. The issue for the Bears last fall was they were as capable of shutting out anyone in Class 2 as they were capable of getting shutout themselves. But there’s more offense here this year, and Courtney Melvin (.750 AVG., 1.653 OPS) and Krysta Rader (.500 AVG., 1.545 OPS, 5 SB) are showing out early.
2. West Plains (5-1, C3)
Abbey Gann is off to the start I expected for the Zizzers, already tossing four complete games and three shutouts in five starts with a 0.36 ERA, 0.64 WHIP and 40 strikeouts in 25 innings (plus a 5-inning perfect game against Parkview) before the 3-2 loss to Camdenton on Tuesday. She’s the best all-around pitcher in the region this fall and is part of an experienced team that went to the 2016 Class 3 quarterfinals. The Zizzers have a .430 team average through five games, led by Karsyn Smith, who’s hitting .769 with eight runs, 10 RBIs, a 2.132 OPS and seven steals. West Plains has a key 3-1 win against district rival Logan-Rogersville.
3. Cassville (4-0, C3)
With a key early win (4-1) against district rival Hillcrest, a hot lineup and a pitcher who challenges West Plains’ Abbey Gann for the area’s best, Cassville is sitting pretty. Josie Lone (4-0, 0.38 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, 36 K, 23.2 IP) has been pristine. Trinity Ewing (.563 AVG., 7 SB), Kaylee Reibert (.667 AVG.), Shauna Dilbeck (.583 AVG.) and Lone (.533 AVG., 4 XBH) are raking. To top it off, Lauren Turner is playing inspired softball right now, hitting .536 with three home runs (homers in 3 straight) and nine RBIs, including a cycle against Willard.
4. Kickapoo (5-0, C4)
The Chiefs won 15 of their final 20 games last season after a slow start and seemed primed for a big 2017, especially with a strong incoming freshman class and experience on the mound. So far so good. Kickapoo has three high-quality wins over Monett, Ozark and Waynesville, beating the latter two 10-1 apiece. Considering Ozark is a perennial Class 4 state contender and Waynesville is a strong up-and-comer in the Ozark Conference, those are some of the best early wins on this list. The Chiefs knocked around one of the area’s best pitchers in Ozark’s Brooke Pridgen for eight earned runs. Take out that game and Pridgen has a 0.44 ERA this season. Freshman Chloe Merced has been a sensation, smacking two home runs in her high school debut and hitting .400 with four homers, eight RBIs and nine runs on the season. Chloe Bowen (.438 AVG.) has been the second-best bat early, and senior Emily Admire is looking at what could be a career season on the mound (5-0, 35 IP, 37 K, 1.80 ERA, 0.86 WHIP).
5. Webb City (7-1, C4)
The Cardinals are off to the start you’d expect for a team that returned its entire roster from a 16-win, district runner-up season in 2016. Mareika Turpen (.636 AVG., 3 HR, 13 R, 14 RBI, 1.896 OPS), Mariah Newby (.520 AVG.), Quincie Capron (.500 AVG.), Addie Darby (.467 AVG., 4 HR), Kaia Storm (.462 AVG.) and Kaylee Cristy (.421 AVG., 5 XBH) are off to exceptional starts and have helped Webb City to 81 runs in eight games. The Cardinals are also showing off how deep their pitching staff runs with Cristy, Capron, Darby, Amy Morris and Haidyn Berry all pitching between five and 13.1 innings and combining for a 2.15 ERA with 37 strikeouts over 46 innings. Webb’s one loss is to Rock Bridge, 14-4, but wins over McDonald County and Monett (one of the best in Class 3) are early statements.
6. Logan-Rogersville (4-2, C3)
While there’s no real quality early win yet for Rogersville, the Wildcats have their entire roster back from their 2016 district runner-up team and will be here all year. Even though those key wins aren’t there, a 2-1 loss (by walkoff) to Class 4 Branson and a 3-1 loss to district rival West Plains prove this team’s potential. Julia Marshall (2-1, 2.76 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 10 K, 16.1 IP) and Hunter Bledsoe (2-1, 1.80 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 12 K, 20 IP) have been a good 1-2 punch on the mound. The Wildcats need to pick it up is at the plate, where they have a .300 team average through six games (the lowest team average in these rankings). Hailey Brown started the season 0-for-7, but is 8-for-16 since and up to a .348 average. Shelby Ince (.429 AVG.) and Paige Leithead (.500 AVG., 12 ABs) have been good early.
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7. Ozark (3-1, C4)
The only reason Ozark isn’t higher in these rankings is a 10-1 loss to Kickapoo. Luckily, they have a long season to make people forget about that. The Tigers have good wins over Carthage, Lebanon and Columbia Rock Bridge and have been dominant at the plate. Nya Morgan leads the way with a .727 average, four homers, nine RBIs and a massive 2.678 OPS. Kara Ford (.538 AVG., 1.495 OPS), Makenna Harmon (.545 AVG., 1.492 OPS) and Madison Reeses (.500 AVG.) are locked in early. Outside of a hiccup against Kickapoo (8 ER, 1.1 IP), Brooke Pridgen has been herself, posting a 0.44 ERA with a 1.19 WHIP in her other three starts.
8. Monett (1-3, C3)
Like last year, pitching has been a bit of an issue early on for Monett with the Cubs posting a team ERA over 5.00 through four games, but part of that is likely due to a very tough early schedule. Even so, the Cubs are a couple plays away from a 4-0 start after losing to Class 4 Republic, 9-6, in extras, Class 4 Webb City, 6-5, and Class 4 Kickapoo, 3-2, with the losses to the Cardinals and Chiefs coming on walkoffs. Katie Kurima has already swiped 10 bags and is hitting .571. For those who are curious, the MSHSAA single-season record for steals is 65 (Stefanie Standley, Lamar, 2000).
9. Reeds Spring (7-0, C3)
The Wolves finished one-game-under .500 in 2016 but seemed poised for a big step this year with the continued development of now sophomore pitcher Izzy Erickson. Early on, it’s all clicking for Erickson and the Wolves, who are still perfect and have a trio of good wins over Class 2 Ava, Class 4 Republic and Class 4 Nixa. Erickson has been a highlight reel on the mound (6-0, 37 IP, 63 K, 0.97 WHIP) and at the plate (.652 AVG., 2 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 12 R, 12 RBI, 1.826 OPS, 5 SB) and will continue to get better. Maddison Cantrell (.588 AVG., 3 2B), Brooke Davis (.500 AVG.) and Mackenzie Duvall (.450 AVG., 7 RBI, 7 R) are all off to big starts.
10. Dixon (4-0, C2)
Dixon returned a good group from a district runner-up team in 2016. The Bulldogs already have a great 2-1 win over Class 4 Waynesville and a good district win over Iberia, 9-8, in extra innings in the Frisco League Tournament (which they won). Tressa Hughes has been great early on, striking out 52 through four starts. If she can shut down Waynesville’s lineup like she did, that says a lot for Dixon’s changes moving forward. The Bulldogs are hitting .317 as a team.
11. Hermitage (4-1, C1)
The Class 1 District 3 and 4 combination of Walnut Grove, Hermitage, Wheatland and Weaubleau will likely produce a Class 1 state quarterfinalist, at the very least, this season. So far, Hermitage deserves to be on top of that list. They’ve split a pair with Weaubleau, winning 7-2 in the Humansville Tournament championship on Aug. 26, and losing 5-0 on the road three days later.
12. Weaubleau (3-1, C1)
Heading back to last season, Weaubleau has won 14 of 17 games. And they’ve done it with pretty much the same roster after a small graduating class in 2016-17. The Tigers have a pair of quality early wins over Wheatland, 14-3, and Hermitage, 5-0. But they’ve also lost to Hermitage, 7-2. With McKenna Arthurs, Megan Flagg and Jerika Vanderford leading this group, the Tigers should be here all year.
13. Camdenton (7-1, C4)
The Lakers graduated one of the best senior classes in the region last year but are still favorites to win the Ozark Conference and still should be a favorite to win a district title. The Lakers have looked good early but faltered in an early match against Hillcrest, losing 6-0. But a 3-2 win over West Plains that carries a lot of weight in the conference was a big rebound. Faith Rakes (.609 AVG., 1.466 OPS) and Shelby Webster (.500 AVG., 2 HR, 1.439 OPS) have picked up where they left off at the plate, and Haile Farris (2.19 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 47 K, 32 IP) is again showing why she’s one of the best young pitchers in the Ozarks. This is another team that could easily climb in these rankings.
14. Branson (6-2, C4)
The Pirates are two one-run losses away from an 8-0 start, already posting a quality win over Rogersville and managing to shutout a good Lebanon lineup in a 4-0 win. Cat Ford’s sophomore year is off to a great start (6-2, 47 IP, 20 K, 1.49 ERA, 1.00 WHIP), and Gracie Jaeger (.550 AVG., 1.271 OPS) and Savannah Miller (.519 AVG.) have been great at the plate. They’re primed to vault up these rankings with some more quality Class 4 wins.
15. Walnut Grove (4-2, C1)
Early wins over Wheatland, 9-5, and Dora, 1-0, look good for the defending C1D3 champs. But a 19-9 loss to Humansville doesn’t. Thing is, this is a young team, and Jeff Dishman knew that may be an issue at times this year, but the Tigers are doing good things so far and have tons of potential. Freshman Lauren Johnson is hitting .500 through six games and senior Stephanie Ortiz is hitting .644.
Keep An Eye On: Republic (4-1, C4), Crocker (3-1, C1), Dora (2-3, C1), Bolivar (3-0, C3), Hillcrest (3-2, C3), Waynesville (2-6, C4), Nevada (5-2, C3), Pleasant Hope (4-3, C2), Wheatland (2-3, C1), Salem (4-3, C3), Warsaw (3-2, C2), Houston (4-1, C2)