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GRANVILLE — On his preseason questionnaire, Putnam County softball coach Chris Walker asked his players their goals for this season.
“To a T, it’s to go farther than we did last year,” Walker said about his players’ response to the question. “We will be disappointed to say the least — with all due respect to everybody — if we don’t at least match what we did (last year). That’s our goal. … As long as we put forth our best effort, I’m very confident in this group of girls.”
With good reason.
The Lady Panthers return all nine starters from last year’s team that went 21-12 and lost 9-8 in eight innings to Dwight in the Class 1A LeRoy Sectional final. “Now we know what we’re going to run into this year, and hopefully, we’ll go farther,” PC junior Shelby Yepsen said.
The Lady Panthers, who are ranked No. 2 in the Illinois Coaches Association preseason Class 1A poll, hope to be playing on the last weekend of the season. “I think our goal is to go as far as we know we can and push ourselves and not just settle,” PC junior Monica Monroe said. “Hopefully, (we’ll make) state and we’ll see how that goes.”
How far the Lady Panthers go will be determined largely on Yepsen’s play in the pitching circle.
Yepsen, a NewsTribune All-Area First-Team pick last year, went 19-10 with a 1.42 ERA and 264 strikeouts in 192 innings as a sophomore.
“It’s experience,” Walker said. “If you could have seen her pitch as a seventh grader, I told her, ‘You couldn’t have broken a pane of glass,’ but she had very good control and a she had a very good changeup. Now, she has a good changeup and a very good curveball and her fastball has increased in speed over the offseason.”
However, Yepsen had a bulged disc and compression fracture in the offseason that kept her out of volleyball and basketball and did not allow her to pitch from August to January.
“I was injured but I’ve been coming back. I feel better than I did last year,” Yepsen said. “(The injuries are) pretty much gone.”
Still, Walker plans to give Yepsen more rest this season by giving more innings in the circle to junior Nikki Mertel.
The defense behind Yepsen will be exactly the same as it was at the end of last season.
Junior Carly Gonet will catch, junior Venessa Voss returns at first, junior Taylor Pettit is back at second, Monroe will play short, Mertel will man the hot corner, sophomore Destinee Gonzalez will be in left field, NT Second-Team All-Area pick Stephanie Wilson will patrol center field and sophomore Annie Miller will play right field.
“I like (having the same defensive lineup) because you know what to do with each other and how to help people out,” Wilson said. “It’s more comfortable out there than if you had someone new. You know if they can get to a ball and you don’t have to worry about it.”
The batting order, however, will have some changes.
Sophomore speedster Lauren Colby, who will be the designated player and hit in place of Yepsen early in the year, will bat lead off.
Mertel will be in the No. 2 slot followed by Monroe, Wilson and Gonet. The rest of the lineup is not set in stone.
“We talked already about how we need to score more runs,” Walker said. “We don’t want 2-1, 1-0 jobs like we had last year. We want to score more, shut them down with good, solid defense and see where the chips fall.”
Kevin Chlum can be reached at 220-6939, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.
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