WHEELING - No one around the Wheeling Central softball program particularly liked the way last season started, or ended, but the good times sure did come their way in between.
They started with a 5-7 record, then surged by winning 16 straight games, including an OVAC title, only to see that streak end in the regional finals by St. Marys. The Maroon Knights finished with a 21-8 record.
''We got off to a slow start, but we got better as the year went on and that's what we hope to do every year,'' coach Rick Magruder said.
The Knights did that, primarily, with Brittany Miller taking the ball in big spots in the circle. She graduated, along with Bri Robbins and Emily Wizba.
The hope is Sarah Henry, who logged more than a few innings last season, and Madison Basinger continue what is a long line of strong pitching at Wheeling Central
So it's a veteran group, with familiar names like Laken Visnick, Ashley Gast, Joni Zavolta, Megan Griffin, Henry, Basinger, and Sydney Bennington, mixing in with seven freshmen the coaching staff can't say enough about.
Visnick and freshman Allie Cook are the catchers, with the ahead-of-her time Cook grabbing an outfield spot when she's not behind the dish.
Gast and Basinger are the first basemen. Griffin mans second base and Bennington is coming off a strong freshman year at shortstop.
Senior Vanessa Saseen is ticketed for third base. In the outfield is three-year starter (and junior) Zavolta in right, Cara Stahl, Cook, and freshman Cassidy McCord in center, and Cook or freshman Bailey Rehm in left. Jordan Smith is a freshman utility type, classmate Ciara Saseen will play some third base, sophomore Amanda Medovic can catch, play first base, and is a likely designated hitter candidate, while sophomores Molly Beaver, Shelby Main and freshmen Alexis DaRe' and Alyssa Gilligan round out the roster.
''We feel with what we have coming back, we've got a good start,'' Magruder said. "Then with some of the freshmen, we're going to ad them into the mix and some of them are going to get a lot of playing time.''
Playing freshman these days isn't the hope-and-pray proposition it once was. These players played summer and fall ball last year with the varsity teams against other area varsity teams.
''I think it's helped them,'' Magruder said. ''Not to say they won't get nevous once the season starts, because they will. But I think they'll do well because there's a lot of potential.
''As always, we're aiming to make it down state.''