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The Suburbanite
  • Panthers seek third consecutive PAC-7 softball title

  •   It has been a great ride the last two seasons for the Lady Panthers softball program as they have won back-to-back PAC-7 titles in impressive fashion.

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  •   It has been a great ride the last two seasons for the Lady Panthers softball program as they have won back-to-back PAC-7 titles in impressive fashion.
    During that span, Manchester ran off 27 consecutive victories in conference play helping to extend their win streak to 30 games. Their last setback in PAC-7 play, came against Tuslaw (4-3) in May 2010.
    “It’s on great accomplishment not losing a game in league play the last two seasons,” head coach James Morehart said. “We don’t try to get caught up too much in it. We’re more concerned about winning the league title, and I feel that we have a good chance again this year if things fall in place.”
    Nine letter-winners will return to the diamond for Morehart, including three first-team All-League selections: Courtney Roth, Brooke Horning, and Kate Mash.
    “We have a great nucleus of kids coming back, including our top three hitters,” he said. “We also have a very strong sophomore class. Our expectations are very high entering the season.”
    Roth, a junior shortstop, led the team with a .506 batting average. She had a home run, eight doubles, and 28 runs batted in.
    Horning, a junior third baseman/pitcher, hit .441 with 17 RBI. She was 2-2 from the mound with a 1.56 earned run average.
    Mash, a junior first baseman, batted .436 with three home runs and 26 RBI. She also had 19 doubles, which set a school record for a single season.
    Other returnees include juniors Rachel Fincham (outfielder), Haylee Zwick (outfielder), Chelsea Chappel (catcher), Macenzie Kirk (outfielder), and sophomores Kaylee Miller (catcher) and Haley Brown (outfielder).
    Miller was one the team’s best clutch hitters a year ago, batting .381 with a team-high 28 RBI. Fincham also had some good numbers, hitting at a .304 clip with 17 RBI.
    Promising newcomers on the squad are freshman Jenna Williams (outfielder/pitcher), Emily Kusmits (third baseman/outfielder), Tatum Christy (second baseman), and MacKenzie Barker (catcher).
    Barker is expected to miss six to eight weeks due to an injury.
    “I really feel that we can be better this season than a year ago,” said Morehart (163-103) , who is entering his eleventh season. “We lost three outstanding players and individuals to graduation (Rachel Harbarger, Lauren Mallory, Kendra Mars), but have a very good group returning.
    “Our hitting should be strong top to bottom, and we have some nice speed on the bases. The key to our season will be pitching and defense. We have to develop someone after losing Rachel (Harbarger). We also lost some leadership from Lauren (Mallory), and Kendra (Mars), who were fouryear starters.
    “We have kids capable of filling those holes, but they are young. We’ll be able to find out soon enough what type of team we have when we get out there and dig our heels in the dirt.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Harbarger, a Notre Dame College (Cleveland) recruit, was a workhorse for the team, posting a 20-3 record from the hilltop with 205 strikeouts in 151 innings. She had a 1.39 ERA.
     Mars and Mallory batted .387 and .270, respectively.
    Looking at this year’s PAC-7 race, Morehart feels it should be very competitive.
    “The league is always pretty strong,” he said. “Fairless and Triway are always there. The rest of the schools in the league are very balanced. It should be a fun and challenging year.”
    Manchester’s  nonleague schedule will be a meat-grinder this season including the likes of Division I state champion North Canton Hoover and Division II state qualifier Poland in addition to Massillon Jackson, Akron Ellet,  Perrysburg and Wadsworth.
    “We wanted to upgrade our schedule this year,” said Morehart. “It may be difficult, but it will help get us ready for post-season play, where we have struggled the last two years.”
     Butch Montabone will return to assist Morehart with the coaching duties, while Brandy Cash and Danielle Roberts will work at the junior varsity level.
    The Panthers, who are coming off a 22-5 campaign, opened up their season on Monday at the Grand Strand Softball Classic in Myrtle Beach, SC on a winning note as they defeated Elmira (NY) 9-4. Emily Kusmits had two hits and 5 RBIs, while Courtney Roth added two hits and three RBIs. Brooke Horning picked up the win on the mound.