The Wellington Dukes got hot at the right time in 2016, sneaking up to grab a sectional softball championship despite finishing just 12-14 during the regular season.
Wellington slugged its way through the sectional playoffs, topping Warrensville Heights 21-4 and Independence 11-6.
After a 6-3 loss to Elyria Catholic in the district semifinals, third-year coach Duane Sunagel thinks his girls are ready to build on what they started.
“I think we won six of our last seven games to end last year. Something clicked,” he said. “I hope we can finish runner-up to Keystone, but we’ll see how it goes. Sure, I’d like to knock Keystone off but that’s a tall order. Buckeye will also be tough.”
Sunagel’s Dukes will have to do without departed seniors Morgan Tandarich (.407 batting average in 2016) and Olivia Bradstock (.405), the second and third leading hitters on the team.
Coming back, however, is top hitter Hope Diermyer. The junior first baseman hit .427 and scored 23 runs in 2016. She was named first team All-County, second team All-PAC, and earned an honorable mention for the Northeast Ohio district.
Returning senior Krista Denny received an All-PAC honorable mention after hitting .308 last year. Junior Mak Moore was second team on both the All-PAC and All-County teams with a .291 average, a home run, and nine stolen bases.
Other returning letter-winners are juniors Autumne Haswell and Amber Wetherbee as well as sophomores Rianna Rosecrans and Hailey Buzaleski.
Buzaleski, though, is set to miss the year due to injury.
“We’re going to have to play better defense for sure to stop hovering around .500,” said Sunagel. “It looks like we’ll be sort of pitching by committee. Rosecrans won a game for us last year, but that’s most of the experience we have returning with our pitching. Olivia Bradstock was a workhorse for us.”
The coach thinks the Patriot Athletic Conference will still present challenges besides Keystone and Buckeye.
“There’s Columbia. Black River will be tough this year,” he said. “I hope to be able to play small ball, bunt, and just put the ball in play when we need to. We work a lot on bunting. The PAC has small ball teams and power teams.”
“We lost twice to Keystone and they finished runner-up in the state in Division II. Then we lost to Canfield South Range. They finished state runner-up in Division III. Then we also lost one of our games to Strasburg, the Division IV state runner-up. We did things well against those teams. They’re tough teams with quite a tradition. It’s good fir us to see where we’re trying to get,” he said.
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.