Members Clay High School Softball team are, from left, standing/kneeling: Regan Stager, Tori Gallaher, Lindsay Roberts, and Rebekah Yenrick. Seated is Natalie Quinlan. THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER
With arguably the top softball program in northwest Ohio over the past 11 seasons, Clay is no stranger to being favored in March to win league championships, and then making those prognostications come true in May.
The Eagles (20-4, 13-1) won their fourth straight Three Rivers Athletic Conference title last season, and their eighth league crown overall since 2006, with four of those championships won while competing in the City League (2006, ’07, ’09, and ’10).
In that span, the Clay teams of 17th-year coach Brenda Radabaugh have posted an incredible record of 127-9 in league games.
As for Radabaugh (489-164 career record overall), she is approaching a major milestone, closing in on her 500th career victory. She entered the 2017 season with a 336-106 mark at Clay, after posting a 153-58 record in nine seasons at Central Catholic (1992-2000).
This season, with the Eagles returning seven starters, including their top pitcher from 2016, Clay is favored to win its fifth straight TRAC title.
The Eagles received six of the eight first-place votes and 60 of a possible 64 voting points to place first in a preseason conference coaches poll.
Whitmer (17-9, 10-4) picked up the other two first-place votes and was second in the poll with 57 points, followed by Notre Dame at 48, and St. Ursula at 35. Findlay, Central Catholic, Fremont Ross, and Lima Senior rounded out the TRAC poll, in order.
Clay’s hopes of a five-peat will be pinned to its returnees — seniors Bekah Yenrick (first base, .600 average, 4 home runs, 43 RBIs) and Olivia Hornyak (left field, .365, 22 RBIs), juniors Natalie Quinlan (catcher, .382, 20 RBI) and Regan Stager (third base, .378), and sophomores Lindsay Roberts (pitcher, 9-2 record, 2.47 earned-run average), Tori Gallaher (second base-P, .443, 23 RBIs, 8-1, 1.79 ERA) and Tiffany Stevens (center field, 17 RBIs).
Yenrick, Quinlan, Roberts, and Gallaher were all first-team All-TRAC in 2016. Stager was a second-team all-conference pick.
Clay was ranked seventh in last year’s final state coaches poll and advanced to the Division I regional semifinals before losing a 9-8 heart-breaker to Brecksville-Broadview Heights.
“We have a very good mix of talented young players and experienced veterans,” Radabaugh said. “The players are working extremely hard, and we have great team chemistry.”
Whitmer welcomes new head coach Duane Lanham, who previously had significant success at Southview and later at Owens Community College, where he guided the Express to a junior college national runner-up finish.
Lanham inherits a strong group of players from former coach Mark Figliomeni, including nine returning starters and two other letter winners.
Back for the hard-hitting Panthers are senior Taylor Wietrzykowski (1B, .354, 18 RBIs), juniors Alexys Bonds (OF, .358), Mickenzie Brown (2B, .378), Amanda Combs (P, .382, 10-6, 1.92 ERA), Brooklyn Esser (OF, .467), Blythe Hardmon (OF, .379), Rylee Martin (3B), and Kaylee Keesee (SS), and sophomore Madison Terry (OF, .475).
Combs and Terry were first-team All-TRAC players, and Brown and Esser were second-team all-conference.
“We have a strong junior class with lots of varsity experience, some strong sophomores, and a very versatile freshman,” Lanham said of coaching his first season at his alma mater. “Under a new coaching staff, it will be interesting to see how far they will grow.”
Notre Dame (13-13, 7-7) is another team that should be in contention for the TRAC title with eight returning starters from a team that advanced to the D-I district finals before losing 5-4 to 10th-ranked Anthony Wayne.
Back for eighth-year Eagles coach Norm Kujawa are seniors Mikayla Grajczyk (P, 10-10, 3.93 ERA), Mycala Duhart (OF, .367), Lauren Sasala (OF), and Melanie Faltys (1B), juniors Maghan Miller (2B, .366, 17 RBIs) and Hannah Rubel (SS, .342, 17 RBIs), and sophomores Erin Bollin (3B) and Kathryn Rex (C, .530, 3 HR, 18 RBIs).
Grajczyk, Duhart, Miller, and Rex were all named to the All-TRAC second team.
“We return a lineup that gained valuable experience in a late-season run to the district finals,” Kujawa said. “That experience should pay huge dividends this season. We added some depth to make us a very solid, well-rounded team.”
St. Ursula (13-7, 9-5) brings back four starters plus another letter winner for second-year coach Jeff Eisenbrandt.
Returning to lead the Arrows are sophomores Morgan Bowers (P-1B, .400, 7 HR, 32 RBIs, 10-7, 1.93 ERA) and Mychal Naylor (OF), and juniors Breanna Batch (SS) and Alexa Gignac (3B).
Bowers was named first- team All-TRAC, and has already committed to Kent State.
The Arrows lost 5-2 to rival Notre Dame in the D-I district semifinals.
“We graduated a lot of talent last year, but that has provided opportunities for some younger players in the program to step up and contribute,” Eisenbrandt said. “We are focusing on the process of getting better with each practice and game.”
Findlay (12-10, 10-4) and third-year coach Paige Jansen will rely on six returning letter winners in its quest to remain in the top half of the TRAC and, perhaps, contend for a title.
The Trojans are led by seniors Taylor Steinke (OF, .400, 21 RBIs), Riley Langstaff (3B, .379), Kirsten Paris (OF, .444, 2 HR, 17 RBIs), and Macy Bowling (P, 6-3, 1.89 ERA), and juniors Shelbi Sargent (C) and Emily Betts (SS-P, 4-3, 3.58 ERA).
Bowling and Paris were each named second-team All-TRAC.
“We have six very strong returners this season, who we feel give us a very solid base with their knowledge and leadership,” Jansen said. “Overall, I think we have a very well-rounded team that meshes very well. The drive and determination that we have seen to this point has been something that was missing in the past.”
Central Catholic (5-18, 4-10) returns eight starters plus three other letter winners as former Irish standout player Ashley Sujkowski returns to coach her alma mater.
Back for Central are seniors Alex Bronikowski (OF, .434), Olivia Morrison (SS, .397), Gabby Hurst (3B), Madisen Tressler (P), and Abby Calmes (P), and juniors Allison Plansencio (OF, .449), Callie Bremer (P), Dakari Parish-Baker (OF, .327), and Jordan Swartz (C).
“I am very excited to work with this group of young ladies,” Sujkowski said. “We have an experienced team of returners, with only two new additions from last season. This team has the depth and the team chemistry to have a very successful season.”
Fremont Ross (7-18, 3-11) also has a first-year head coach in Tony Hill, who has eight returning starters plus three other letter winners back.
The Little Giants will look to seniors Chloe Swaisgood (SS, .367) and Logan Lamalie (OF), juniors Braelyn Horn (OF, .360), Gabby Zuniga (3B), and Morgan Englund (P), and sophomore Chloe Roosen (C) for leadership, and juniors Addie Burmeister (OF) and Paige Risch (OF) also bring experience.
Swaisgood is a two-time first-team All-TRAC selection.
“We expect to start turning things around with this team,” Hill said. “We have one of the most experienced teams in the area. The team is very hungry, and for the most part has bought into how we want to do things.
“If we are able to maximize the total potential talent we possess, this team will be very tough to beat as we gain confidence.”
Lima Senior (1-20, 0-14) begins its second season under coach Kayla Mull, who will depend on leadership from five returning letter winners — seniors Ruth Ahalya-Curtis and Haley Vermilion, junior Kiara Buchanan, and sophomores Riley Davenport and Morgan Twining.
Still in a building mode, the Spartans will look for steady improvement. But any significant climb in the TRAC standings is not likely.
Clay head coach Brenda Radabaugh is closing in on her 500th coaching win.