Effingham Daily News
The Effingham Flaming Hearts didn't have the season they wanted on the softball diamond in 2012.
Going through a 12-21 season and a 3-11 Apollo Conference campaign may have helped them in 2013, however.
Effingham returns its entire pitching staff of Ciara Kronewitter, Deedra Myers and Kourtney Utz after some 2012 struggles. Coach Jerry Trigg said the staff learned through the adversity.
"None of those three had pitched varsity before," Trigg said. "It was quite a bit different than JV."
Still, the then-juniors had many bright spots, specifically Kronewitter.
She crafted fine performances against two good local opponents in Altamont and Cumberland, and also helped the Hearts take down Sacred Heart-Griffin.
"Ciara really stepped up and pitched well at times," Trigg said. "We're looking for more consistency for her, and I'm counting on that."
On the offensive side of things, the Hearts will be anchored by seniors Kelli Utz and Brandy Pontious. Utz hit over .400 last year and Pontious was a consistent threat hitting third in the lineup last year.
Along with Utz and Pontious, Trigg said they should have a few other threats with the bat.
"Courtney White can hit over .300, Kourtney Utz should hit over .300," he said. "I think we'll be a high average hitting team, not many home runs, but I'm looking to Ciara and Deedra to be the two RBI people in the middle of the lineup."
In the process, Kelli Utz will move from catcher to shortstop to fill in for Kayley Stice following her graduation.
"Kelli's the best player on the team, and we've always had catch because we've had to," Trigg said. "I'm confident she's going to step in and play short."
Replacing Utz is another matter, and Trigg said the catcher job will belong to freshman Kaylee Tonn to start the season.
Trigg said the transition at catcher should be helped by Tonn's battery mates.
"I think with our senior pitchers, I think we'll be okay with that battery," he said.
Pontious is expected to play second and third base with Morgan Wilson in right field. Alexis Osborn could see time in left field after a hot start to last season.
The Hearts are also looking to get senior Ashley Jamerson back in the mix. Jamerson missed her entire sophomore campaign with an injury and spent last season getting back into the swing of things at second, third and in the outfield.
It's an experience-laden team, with only two sophomores and two freshmen each, so instead of counting on the youngsters to fill positions, it'll be the upperclassmen.
"The seniors, I'm hoping they can step up and be the leaders they've shown so far in practice," he said.
While most schools are slated for a lot of March games, the Hearts will ease into the season, starting on March 19 at Vandalia. They'll play two more times in March before preparing for conference play, culminating in its home opener against Cumberland on March 19.
Apollo play beings on April 8 against Charleston, and they'll be done by the beginning of May.
For the Hearts to improve their 3-11 mark in conference, the answer is pretty simple for Trigg.
"Our hitting has got to better than last year. We just did not score enough runs," Trigg said. "When Ciara won it was 2-1 and 1-0.
Effingham has plenty of reason to be optimistic with its experience on the hill, however.
"I'm counting on our pitching to really be solid and keep us in a lot of games," Trigg said. "We're going to move some people around, I think defensively we'll be solid. I think our hitting will come around."
Effingham begins with is season at 4 p.m. March 19 against the Vandalia Vandals.
Ryan Czachorski can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 135, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.