By Kyle Daubs
With a deep returning class, Charleston softball is hoping to go even deeper in the postseason this season.
The Trojans, the defending Apollo Conference champions, captured an IHSA Regional title last year. Seven starters return for what could be another successful softball season in Charleston, although the team will have to find a way to maneuver without experienced seniors.
Here is the preview of the upcoming team.
TEAM RECORD 2021: 24-4 (7-0)
2021 REVIEW: Charleston swept the Apollo Conference with a perfect record, the fourth straight season that the Trojans won at least 20 games. The season came to an end in the sectional semifinals with a 9-2 loss to Waterloo.
Charleston lost three key players who are all playing college softball – Reagan McGahey (Southern Illinois University), Ava Stephens (Lake Land), and Ashlyn McPeak (Danville Community College). McGahey was named First-Team All-State last season, while all three players were All-Apollo.
“These three are irreplaceable,” said CHS coach Blain Mayhall. “ I know they are all representing Charleston and contributing to their new teams. They were huge for us offensively and anchored our defensive attack as well. We are going to need everyone to step up offensively and contribute to replacing their production.”
KEY PLAYERS: The team returns one of the best pitchers in the state of Illinois – junior Karah Moore, who finished fourth in the state in wins last season. Moore was 18-1, including 7-0 in the Apollo, in 132 ⅔ innings pitched. She struck out 108 for a 1.74 earned run average and even pitched a perfect game. Moore also batted .416 with four home runs, nine doubles, and an OPS of 1.137.
Moore, an All-Apollo selection, is joined by sophomore Addison Schrader as the other returning all-conference player. Schrader played mostly in the field a lot last season but spent a lot of the offseason working on her pitching. The Trojans will have five quality starting pitchers with Mikayla Lane, Kailyn Wilson and freshman Emma Morecraft seeing time in the circle.
“Seven returning starters is a nice problem to have,” said Mayhall. “Karah Moore will find herself back in the circle quite often this year. Addison has put in a lot of work as a pitcher since last season. To have five pitchers that I trust in a varsity contest is a luxury. I’m very excited about our pitching staff.”
The catching crew returns juniors Erin Blair and Clara Cox. Sophomore Maci Mayhall, the other returning starter, will likely start at second base. Sophomore Olivia Schuette likely would have seen playing time last year were she not injured, but she is fully healthy. Sophomore Morgan Dickey and freshman Blair Ritchey could contend for playing time.
BIGGEST CHALLENGES: Really, the biggest challenge might be finding time for everyone. According to Mayhall, this is a very deep team that could be moved around all over the field.
“This is a very versatile group who can play multiple positions,” said Mayhall. “As a coach, it is very exciting to see all the different possibilities. We have a lot of kids coming back from last season’s team. The three seniors were absolute studs and played a major role in what we were able to accomplish last year, but this year’s group is very talented on the field. They will all have to step up offensively to replace the firepower from those three seniors. I feel like we can compete with anyone when we play our best softball. We will have to see what happens. Our focus right now is improving every day and coming together as a unit. We hope to be ready to go on the 19th vs St. Joe.”
With zero seniors on the team, though, Mayhall said the team is going to have to come together.
“I don’t worry about the on-field softball talent of this group,” said Mayhall. “Our main goal is to come together as a family. We are going to spend a lot of time together in the next few months. There will be good times and bad. We have to learn to come together as one unit. If we can put the team first, have each other’s back, and support one another, the softball staff will take care of itself and provide some enjoyable moments for this crew.”
KEY GAMES: Charleston opens up its season with an invitational at Casey Westfield on March 19. Charleston begins Apollo Conference play with Mattoon on April 2. Charleston added an invitational to its schedule on April 23 by traveling to Metamora in the Maggie Wright Showcase.
Juniors: Karah Moore, Mikayla Lane, Erin Blair, Kailyn Wilson, Clara Cox, Emily Davis
Sophomores: Olivia Schuette, Kailee Gough, Addison Schrader, Maci Mayhall, Tommie Carver, Morgan Dickey, Makenlee Flynn
Freshmen: Blair Ritchey, Lilly Zerbst, Emma Morecraft