WHEELING - Less than a year after finishing so close, Wheeling Park softball is back and expectations are soaring.
After losing in the state championship game to Hurricane, Park returns a solid nucleus with very little needs heading into the season.
"The girls really enjoyed being in Vienna," Coach Dee Davis said. "They got a taste of what it is like to play in the state championship and they want to get that taste again."
Wheeling Park finished 2013 with a 22-7 record and it returns a multitude of talent, led by pitcher Carly Greer.
"She pitched most of our games, she was our workhorse," Davis said. "We will rely on her, and then we have Skyler Carrington, our lefty, who pitched when we had doubleheaders and also cleaned stuff up."
Davis said the fact that Park can come back with a lefty to complement her right-handed starter will pay off.
"It's a different look, a different spin on the ball and a different curve," the coach said. "You don't see it every day."
The Patriots also return catcher Ashleigh Sidon, and the entire outfield also returns with Kaleigh Sidon manning center field, Morgan Karnell in left and Kendra Johnson in right.
Three of the four infield spots are also set, with Kelsi Johnson at third, freshman Kat Donzella at shortstop and, depending on who pitches, either Greer, Carrington or Sarah Long at first base.
Johnson is the leader of the defense.
Davis said she has to often caution her third baseman to play back because she likes to play up on the plate.
"She's a tough cookie," Davis said. "Sometimes there are times when she plays halfway up the third-base line, sometimes a quarter way. I yell at her to play back and she will take a step back, then move right back up. She is really good about fielding bunts before they hit the ground. I know last year there were two times when there was a bunt down the first base line and she made the play because she was playing up so close."
The only question remains at second base where three players are fighting it out for the spot. Marissa Tucker was penciled in at second base but the talented Park athlete will miss her senior season after undergoing a second knee surgery.
Davis also said this could be her best hitting team, as far as power goes.
"I think, 1 through 9, we have a power hitters in this lineup," Davis said. "The most I have had in the past has been seven but every one of the girls in this lineup can crush the ball."
Now the trick for Park is to make it back to Vienna.
"I really think we are stronger than we were last year," Davis said. "We have most of our positions filled, we are pretty good on defense and we have good hitters. I know these girls are hungry to get started and have a big year."