NEW FRANKLIN Manchester entered the softball season with a lot of holes to fill and few question marks around the diamond, but with the year now a wrap, the Panthers were able to provide answers for many of those questions and remain competitive in the Principals Athletic Conference while doing so.
The Panthers compiled a 8-4 league mark and a 12-8 record overall to tie for runners-up honors with Northwest while Tuslaw ran away from the rest of the pack at 11-1. It was the another league rival, Triway, that ended Manchester’s season with an 8-2 loss in tournament play, but Tuslaw clearly established itself as the class of the PAC this spring.
Still, veteran Manchester head coach Jim Morehart liked what he saw from his squad as it worked plenty of new faces into the mix.
"We only had a few players back from last year's regional team so overall the girls had a decent season finishing second," Morehart said. "We definitely lost a couple of games that I felt we should have won, but when your team is as young as we were that is to be expected."
While those losses may stick with them, the Panthers authored some signature moments as well and one of those high water marks came early in the season when they swept a two-game series from neighborhood rival Northwest by scores of 8-0 and 10-2.
The offensive surge in those contests came thanks in large part to several key contributors who led the way throughout the season as seniors Haley Doll and Megan Toth and sophomores Maggie Kusmits and Tess Christy each posted impressive numbers at the plate this season.
Kusmits was a first team All-PAC selection and was a second-team All-District honoree. She led her squad in nearly every statistical category with 44 hits, 30 runs, 17 doubles, six home runs, 79 total bases and 33 RBI. Her .554 batting average was second on the club and given the position she plays on defense and the pounding catchers can take over the course of the season due to their duties behind the dish, her offensive production is even more impressive.
That dual-threat ability made her a well-rounded element of the lineup all season long.
"Maggie is a great catcher with great quickness to throw people out on the bases," said Morehart. "She also has an outstanding bat."
Doll and Toth were also First Team All-PAC choices. Doll was the team’s number one pitcher with a 11-5 record and like her battery mate, she chipped in offensively as well, hitting .514 with two homers and 28 RBI.
Toth, meanwhile, finished her Manchester career with a season in which she batted .389 three homers and 16 RBI. Cristy was a honorable mention pick and the sophomore standout finished with a .307 batting average with 16 RBI, suggesting she will be one of the bats the Panthers will count on the next two seasons as they replace the likes of Doll and Toth in the lineup.
"Tess (Christy) and Emily Rucker played the middle infield for us and did a great job and Emma Stamperd anchored our outfield playing center, " Morehart noted.
The Panthers, who were eliminated by Triway 8-2 in sectional tournament contest, will lose five seniors to graduation, but figure to return a solid nucleus as they make their climb back toward the top of PAC standings. The offseason will bring more questions to answer, but this spring proved that it’s possible for the program to rebuild on the fly and continue to be a factor in the league race.