Seven returning starters have Effingham High School softball coach Jerry Trigg hoping for some improvement over last year's 6-21 mark.

"We are clearly more solid at every position defensively," said Trigg. "Our strength should be our pitching and defense."

Shelby Koenig, a junior, will again serve as the Flaming Hearts' top pitcher, hoping to avoid some of the nagging injuries she encountered during her sophomore season.

Sophomore Bailey Pals and freshman Kourtney Utz are also in line to pick up some innings, while the key players to be replaced off last year's roster are first baseman Jensin Koester and shortstop Jenae Harner.

Mallory Steffen is the lone senior on what is still a very young club; she lettered last year along with juniors Koenig, Sam Zerrusen, Stacy Eskew, Hayley Jamerson and Katie Silva. Pals and Kayley Stice, a utility-type player, also saw enough varsity time as freshmen to earn the distincion.

"Steffen will play third base and lead off for us," said Trigg. "She led the team in stolen bases and runs scored last year, so we'll expect her to do the same again this year.

"Koenig was our staff ace last year, but missed several games with injuries. She'll hit in the middle of our lineup and should drive in several runs.

"Zerrusen will alternate between first base and catcher; Sam handles our pitchers very well and understands how to work the hitters. She hits for a very good average and will probably hit third in our lineup.

"Eskew will play center field. Stacey has developed into a very good outfielder and continues to improve her hitting.

"Jamerson will start at shortstop; she has shown great range and a strong arm. Hayley is also a good hitter with surprising power.

"Silva is a very good outfielder with great range. She will play left field. Katie is also one of our better baserunners."

More youthful newcomers will round out the EHS roster, juniors Renae Leslie and Brytnie French move up along with sophomore Morgan McWhorter.

Twin freshmen Kelli and Kourtney Utz, as well as classmate Brandy Pontious, have also earned a chance to compete for varsity playing time during their first year with the team.

Ke. Utz can catch and play infield. Ko. Utz plays infield when not pitching. Pontious is an outfielder along with McWhorter, while Lesie is an infielder and French can catch or play infield.

EHS was 3-11 and seventh in the Apollo Conference last year; Trigg hopes his Hearts can improve upon that and also feels the league is there for the taking.

"The Apollo Conference seems to be wide open with no clear-cut favorite this year," said Effingham's 13th-year skipper. "Charleston should be pretty good. Newton is always tough and Mount Zion will be much-improved.

"Altamont and Cumberland will probably be two of the stronger teams we'll face in our non-conference schedule, and St. Anthony should also be strong again this year."

The Hearts opened the season Wednesday at home against Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin, dropping a 5-3 decision in extra innings. EHS commences Apollo play today with an 11 a.m. doubleheader at Salem — last year's worst conference finisher at 0-14.

Dustin White can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 123 or dustin.white@effinghamdailynews.com.

Effingham High School

Softball Roster

Senior

Mallory Steffen*

Juniors

Sam Zerrusen*, Stacey Eskew*, Hayley Jamerson*, Shelby Koenig*, Katie Silva*, Renae Leslie, Brytnie French

Sophomores

Kayley Stice*, Bailey Pals*, Morgan McWhorter

Freshmen

Kelli Utz, Kourtney Utz, Brandy Pontious

* — Denotes returning letterwiners

Schedule

Sat., Mar. 27 — at Salem (DH), 11 a.m.*

Fri., Apr. 2 — at Cumberland, 4:30 p.m.

Sat., Apr. 3 — Olney (DH), 11 a.m.*

Tue., Apr. 6 — at Beecher City, 4:15 p.m.

Fri., Apr. 9 — St. Elmo, 4:15 p.m.

Sat., Apr. 10 — Newton (DH), 11 a.m.*

Sat., Apr. 17 — Paris (DH), 11 a.m.*

Thu., Apr. 22 — Mount Zion (DH), 4 p.m.*

Tue., Apr. 27 — Altamont, 4 p.m.

Thu., Apr. 29 — at Robinson (DH), 4 p.m.*

Fri., Apr. 30 — Ramsey, 4:30 p.m.

Sat., May 1 — at Robinson Tournament, TBA

Tue., May 4 — at Neoga, 4 p.m.

Sat., May 8 — at Charleston (DH), 11 a.m.*

Mon., May 10 — Flora, 4:30 p.m.

Tue., May 11 — at Teutopolis, 4 p.m.

Wed., May 12 — at Effingham St. Anthony, 4:30 p.m.

Thu., May 13 — Effingham St. Anthony, 4:30 p.m.

Fri., May 14 — at Effingham St. Anthony, 4:30 p.m.

Sat., May 15 — at Nokomis (DH), 11 a.m.

Mon., May 17 — Vandalia, 4:15 p.m.

Tue., May 18 — Mount Vernon, 4:30 p.m.

Sat., May 22 — Taylorville (DH), 11 a.m.

* — Denotes Apollo Conference games

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