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Gibsonburg ready to defend

04/10/2014, 12:00am EDT
By STEVE JUNGA BLADE SPORTS WRITER

6 starters back for Bears; Cardinals, Rangers look to contend


Gibsonburg seeks another TAAC title with top players, front, Samantha Hannigan, and back from left, Alyssa Escobedo, Lyndsey Perales, Elena Mancha, Marisa Alvarado, and Filomena Mendoza. THE BLADE/LORI KING

Gibsonburg ran the table en route to a Toledo Area Athletic Conference softball championship last year and, with six starters returning, is favored to repeat that title this season.

The Golden Bears received five of the seven first-place votes in a preseason poll of TAAC coaches. Cardinal Stritch and Northwood picked up the other two first-place votes.

Gibsonburg (20-7, 12-0 NBC last year) will be guided by first-year coach Martin Brown.

Senior returnees are Marisa Alvarado (center fielder, .361 batting average), Alyssa Escobedo (pitcher 11-2 record, 2.25 ERA pitching; .441 batting average, 5 HRs, 28 RBIs), Samantha Hannigan (third baseman, .327), Elena Mancha (catcher, .446, 21 RBIs) and Filomena Mendoza (left fielder, .480, 3 HRs, 48 RBIs), along with junior Lyndsey Perales (second baseman, .382, 28 RBIs).

“We should be competitive in the league and in tournament play,” Brown said. “We have a good mix of seniors and underclassmen.”

Last season all starters batted .327 or higher.

Cardinal Stritch (13-11, 8-4) and fifth-year coach Don Zbierajewski have the luxury of seven returning starters in the lineup, a group led by senior Rosa Mondragon (OF), and juniors Drew Fancher (P, 10-8 record, 1.99 ERA, 185 strikeouts pitching; .493 batting), and Cecelia Gozdowski (OF, .355).

Also back are sophomores Madison Moran (1B-C, .311), Lizzie Smith (C-3B), Samantha Huff (SS), and Sydnie Rodriguez (IF-OF).

“I am very optimistic for this coming season,” Zbierajewski said. “We have a strong nucleus returning along with some really solid newcomers to push the starters for playing time.”

Northwood (14-12, 10-2) and second-year coach Jennifer Noonan have five starters plus four other letter winners back.

Leading the Rangers will be seniors Marissa Bonnette (1B, .397), Alyson Seibert (P, 14-11 pitching; .410 batting), Brianna Crispen (CF, .340), Emily Murphy (2B), and Ashley Buczko (C).

“We have a great nucleus with our five seniors, they have a great work ethic, and are determined to win,” Noonan said. “We have been working hard and expect to have a good season. Our core group of seniors is complemented by a group of young talent, and we expect to do well in the league and the tournament this year.”

Emmanuel Christian (11-10, 6-6) and first-year coach Sarah Nietz have six returning starters back.

The Warriors are led by seniors Chelsea Graham (C, .444), Rachael Smith (1B) and Lizzie Harrington (CF), juniors Carlee Marzec (SS, .353) and Cassidy Daniels (3B, .333), and sophomore Jillanne Groenhout (P).

“With six returning starters, including our pitcher and catcher, we will have a very strong core,” Nietz said. “Additionally, we have many new players who will add to our strength.”

Ottawa Hills (4-18, 3-9) looks to make a climb in the TAAC this season behind five returning starters for third-year coach Jeff Deckebach.

Back for the Green Bears are seniors Gaby Guilliod (C, .369, 24 RBIs) and Abby Lyon (1B, 14 RBIs), juniors Sarah Baehren (P-OF) and Maddie Freeman (P-SS, 13 RBIs), and sophomore Audrey Rotman (2B-3B).

“I really like or team,” Deckebach said. “We have a good combination of experienced leadership and improving young players. The kids have worked hard, and we will be much deeper and more competitive than last season. I expect us to continue to improve and hopefully develop the confidence we need to compete with any TAAC opponent.”

Danbury (5-17, 2-10) also returns five starters, including juniors Kylah Mackall (P-OF, .326), Elissa Rae Barrere (C-IF), and Taylor Zelms (1B), and sophomores Alex Perram (C-IF-OF) and Samantha Puckett (P-IF-OF).

But Lakers coach Chris Matta has no seniors.

“We are looking for more wins this season,” Matta said. “We’re young, but we have more experience after taking our licks last year. We have improved our hitting as well as our pitching.”

Toledo Christian (5-21, 1-11) also has five returning starters but no seniors.

The Eagles and third-year coach Mike Geis will look for leadership from juniors Bethany Kollmorgen (P-2B) and Lia Kaiser (C-OF), and sophomores Megan Draper (P-SS-3B), Lilly Watts (C-OF), and Rylee Brown (C-2B-3B).

“Year three should bring continued improvements with five returning starters and some good young players,” Geis said. “But the on-field improvement may not be reflected in the record books.”

Contact Steve Junga at: sjunga@theblade.com, or 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.

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