NEW FRANKLIN The good thing about a slow start is that there’s still time to get rolling.
The Manchester softball team may have struggled out of the gate, going 2-3 at the Grand Strand Classic tournament in Myrtle Beach, S.C., last month, but the Panthers have roared to life since returning to Ohio, winning seven consecutive decisions during the month of April and outscoring their opponents by a 82-37 count.
The winning streak elevated the team’s record to 9-3 and with double-digit scoring efforts against Tusky Valley (14-6), CVCA (15-3, 11-7), Barberton (12-8) and Dalton (13-3), the offense has been leading the charge.
"We got off to a slow start, but we've been able to turn it around," veteran head coach Jim Morehart said. "The Myrtle Beach tournament was a good experience for us. Our three losses down their came to much bigger schools. It gave us a little time to mature and jell as a team."
The veteran coach noted that a slow start, especially in a new setting against unfamiliar foes, wasn’t completely unexpected. With just one senior starter in the lineup, Manchester has several freshmen and sophomores starting and its juniors are also working to develop chemistry with the team’s newcomers.
Entering the year, the coaching staff believed the team would be able to hit the ball well, but even Morehart admitted that he’s been pleasantly surprised by some of the big hitting games his squad has posted.
"I'm a little surprised with our output, but I knew we had good athletes coming in and some strong hitters back," he said. "Our offense as a whole has been clicking. I felt we may struggle a little at the bottom, but they have really stepped up. They have been really peppering the ball, and getting on base."
The lineup’s recent surge has been led by sophomore Maddy McVaney, juniors Erika Bell and Alex Craig, and senior Hailey Stewart.
McVaney leads the team in hitting with a .535 average with seven doubles and 15 RBIs. She has also been stellar on the mound, going 4-0 and proving that being one of the younger players on the team won’t prevent her from contributing.
Bell is second on the squad with a .480 average with one home run, 11 RBIs and 19 stolen bases. Craig is hitting at a .457 clip with 15 RBIs, while Stewart is batting .389, giving Manchester balance in its lineup. Overall, the team’s .381 batting average through 12 games and on-base percentage of .513 offer a positive forecast for the rest of the year.
"Those girls (McVaney, Bell, Craig, Stewart) have been our leaders," Morehart said. "They are returning starters along with Trudy Christy. They younger kids look up to them, because they've been their before. Josie (Michel), Olivia (Carder), and Emily (Rucker) have also done a nice job for us."
The lineup will soon get another boost as sophomore pitcher Haley Doll will becomes eligible. Doll is a transfer student from Lebanon who had to sit out the first half of the season due to transfer rules.
The one area of the team most in need of growth, according to Morehart, is defense. He noted that there seems to be one bad inning defensively in every game and cited mental lapses in the field that could come back to bite the Panthers in close games against better teams in the season’s latter stages.
The schedule in the next few weeks promises to bring plenty of those good teams to the Panthers’ doorstep, with Indian Valley, Jackson, Tuslaw, Fairless and the Loudonville Champions tournament all on the agenda.
"Our schedule so far has been favorable, but we are going to be tested in the next few weeks," Morehart said. "Jackson is always a big test, and we get into the heart of our PAC-7 schedule. You only get better playing good competition and we're looking forward to the challenge."