From 8-13 a year ago to a 6-0 start this season, the Woodmore softball team appears to be headed in the right direction.
Behind senior pitcher Madeline Phillips, Woodmore has won its games via a mix of clutch hitting and piching, something that's already earned them a 2-0 record in the Northern Buckeye Conference.
Despite finishing five games below .500 one year ago, the Wildcats were a little better than their record. Many losses were by close margins, a testament to the job Phillips, a two-time, first team All-NBC selection, did while accumulating a 1.59 ERA to go with 210 strikeouts in 140.2 innings.
This season, Phillips is pitching just as well (6-0, 0.40 ERA), but she's gotten much more run support. The team has scored at least three runs in every game and has downed its opponents by a combined score of 44-8. Two of those victories came in dramatic fashion, including a 3-2 non-league win over Margaretta in nine innings and an 8-5 defeat of NBC foe Rossford, while the other four wins have been blowouts.
The reason for the team's improved play has to do with the fact that the team is returning eight starters. For many players, 2013 was their first crack at varsity action and that inexperience reared its head at crucial times. Those learning experiences are beginning to pay off for Woodmore this time around.
In addition to Phillips' .667 batting average a number of other players who now have a year of varsity experience under their belt are hitting well, including catcher Hanna Zollinger (.526), third baseman Courtney Clowers (.316), center fielder Casey Wilhardt (.312), and second baseman Grace Weirich (.300).
“Coming into this year, we knew the experience that we got from last year was going to be a big key,” said head coach Aaron Clouse. “There were so many situations where our experience cost us (last year).
“Bringing back eight starters, we knew we had the potential the be pretty good. I think we only played one or two non-conference games before the league schedule last year, so we didn't get much experience (before league play).
“We have not had a JV team in four years. What happens with some girls is they get forced into action out of necessity sometimes. That learning curve takes time (and) we're in a good softball league. Experience can only be gained. You can't teach it in practice. We've improved in every aspect.”
The victory over Rossford was impressive for two reasons. One, the Bulldogs were expected to be one of the top teams in the NBC this season, but the win also illuminated the Wildcats' perseverance when faced with adversity.
After blowing a 2-0 lead, Woodmore responded by scoring four runs to take a 6-2 advantage, only to give up three runs in the next half of the inning on a couple of key errors. However, the Wildcats responded by scoring an insurance run to push the advantage to 7-5 before finishing things off for the victory. Most importantly, the team scored eight runs on 12 hits, a sign that last year's woes at the plate could be a thing of the past.
A number of players contributed in the victory with Phillips connecting for three hits and three RBIs and Weirich finished with three hits and two RBIs. Zollinger had three hits, Clowers, who had the game-winning hit against Margaretta, had two RBIs and Wilhardt reached base three times and scored twice.
The team has also gotten steady play from other starters, like left fielder Morgan Witt, right fielder Natalie Davis, first baseman Kari Kruse, shortstop and sometimes designated player Marena Hartford and shortstop Emily Paul.
“Coming off last year and losing those close ones,” Phillips said, “we can battle back no matter what the score is and stay in it.”
Phillips, who has signed to pitch at Urbana University, an NCAA Division II school located about halfway in between Dayton and Columbus, is pleased with the performance of her club.
“I feel very good about where we are,” Phillips said. “We are much improved from last season, but there is room to grow. I think it's made a huge difference. Experience is key in a lot of different experiences. Being exposed and knowing how to react is a big part of our growth this year.
“I'd say we are cautiously optimistic because it's so early. We're very pleased with how we're playing. We're still making mistakes that need to be corrected, but we see what could be.”
Clouse believes strongly that his club won't get ahead of themselves.
“They're not overly confident,” Clouse said. “They know to stay grounded. We're still making some mistakes. What I saw was their ability to persevere after making mistakes. They're playing with a level of confidence that we didn't play with last year.”