By Matt Turer — @MattTurer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
HEAD COACH: Mark Estep
2017 RECORD: 8-10
2017 POSTSEASON: DISTRICT QUARTERS: Lost 6-1 to Southwest (Washburn)
RETURNING PLAYERS: CF Madylon Davis, 1B Tori LaSalle, P Alexus Buckert, C Kaylee Neveln, SS Kelsie Grimm, LF Morgan Barrickman
Marionville is coming off a sub-.500 season but is a program just three years removed from a Final Four appearance in 2015. The past two years have been a bit of a rebuild and head coach Mark Estep believes 2018 will be a season that’ll show just how well that rebuild has gone.
“This will be an interesting season,” Estep said. “Last year we made great progress towards our goals, but this year will be what will tell us if we are on the right track. Our schedule is very tough with so many of our conference teams fielding some terrific players that play on travel teams year-round.”
Estep and the Comets are hoping new assistant coach and former Marionville ace Eden Henry might help raise Marionville closer to that level.
“Eden has come on board as assistant coach and will bring valuable knowledge to take us to the next level,” Estep said. “She has already made a huge difference in our pitching staff and I think that will pay big dividends for us this season.”
The Comets return three of their top four most productive bats from 2017 in Tori LaSalle (.520 AVG., 1.199 OPS), Madylon Davis (.341 AVG., .955 OPS) and Morgan Barrickman (.381 AVG., 1.057 OPS).
Estep said Barrickman may be the key for the Comets in 2018.
“As a freshman last year she led our team in doubles and was a top performer in all of our offensive categories,” he said. “She is recovering from an injury in volleyball and her ability to return to top form will make us one of the better offensive teams around.”
This was a strong lineup last season, hitting .343 as a team with a .869 team OPS.
“I feel like the offseason work all of our hitters have put in will show once competitions start,” Estep said. “Several girls have put in a lot of time at our indoor facility over the winter.”
Also returning are Kaylee Neveln, Kelsie Grimm and Alexus Buckert.
Marionville’s strong lineup didn’t turn into a winning record due to a 8.68 team ERA. Estep says the Comets have worked a lot to improve those pitching numbers in the offseason.
“Alexus has been working hard all off season to fill the varsity pitching opening,” he said. “She has made great progress and we are excited to see what she can do in the circle for us this year.”
ADDITIONAL ESTEP QUOTES ON RETURNERS
Davis: “Madylon is a big part of our team. She controls the outfield as a center fielder and has excelled as a true leader out there. She is a force to be dealt with as a hitter and should put up some big numbers for us on offense.”
LaSalle: “As our only senior Tori is a leader both on and off the field. I can’t say enough how valuable she is to our program. She has been asked to play multiple positions and we hope to settle her into another new one this year at first base. Every time she has stepped up and showed what it means to put the team first. Other coaches have noticed this as well as you can see from her conference and district honors the past two years.”
Neveln: “You won’t find a harder worker than our catcher. Once she earned the starters spot behind the plate she has thrown herself into a passion for becoming the best. She is the player who always stays after practice on her own to get in that little extra to excel.”
Grimm: “Kelsie is one of the players that is being asked to learn a new position and fill the shoes of a great player. She will be looked at for the shortstop position and has the athleticism and arm to be a top performer. She will have to gain a little more aggressiveness as we play the top teams in our conference.”