By Chris Parker
Wheatland softball has all the necessary pieces to climb back over .500 this year after going 11-14 last season.
Things start in the circle with senior pitcher Valory Dampier who posted a 3.16 ERA with 76 strikeouts last year. She also was a strong hitter with a .423 batting average and 26 RBI.
“She has, for all intents and purposes, thrown every game since her freshman season,” head coach Pat Dougherty said. “She has 279 career strikeouts and has steadily cut down on her walks year by year. Defense and run support are obviously important to every pitcher, and will be for us as well.”
Fellow four-year starter Madi Sutt returns at catcher to give Wheatland a strong and experienced battery. Sutt can absolutely rake as well. She hit .507 with 28 RBI to go with 10 steals while striking out just five times all season.
“She (Sutt) has a big arm behind the dish and a big bat to go with it and blocks as well as any catcher I’ve coached,” Dougherty said.
Sophomore Kennedy Griffin will be a third pillar for the Mules at shortstop. She hit .408 with 17 RBI and 23 runs scored last year while only striking out four times.
“She (Griffin) has grown into a good leader on the infield in a short time,” Dougherty said. “(She) played and was a big part of our baseball team last spring as well. That experience will no doubt help her this season.”
Griffin will likely hit leadoff.
Gabby Ginnings will play primarily first base but also could see time at third. She enters her fourth season as a starter. Daisy Shaddox will bounce around between second base, third base and the outfield. Zoey Taylor will anchor the outfield in center as a junior. Samantha Taylor (junior third base), Megan Crawford (junior outfielder/designated player) and Anna Hill (senior outfielder) give three more upperclassmen to help lead the team.
“Our biggest strength will probably be experience in key positions,” Dougherty said. “Hopefully pitching and team defense will be a strength.”
Wheatland will also have a strong trio of freshmen in Taylor Hunt (infield), Heavenly Lewton (utility) and Kaleigh Gautieri (utility).
Wheatland’s returning group offers a high ceiling on what this season could bring.
“We could finish near the top of the conference (PCL), and if things go well, challenge for a championship,” Dougherty said. “11 wins last season was a disappointment though, so the girls have been working hard to finish much better than that. Our last district championship was in 2015, and we would love to recapture one of those.”
Wheatland opens the season on Aug. 24 at the Humansville Tournament.