As the defending champions of the Western Reserve Conference, the South softball team enters the 2018 season with a giant target on its back.
With eight returning starters, the Rebels will be ready for any and all challengers.
“The Lady Rebels look to build on their WRC title last year and push deep into playoffs,” said South coach Erin Dodson. “This year, we are very focused on playing our game and focusing on leadership, communication and positive energy.”
South finished 20-6 overall and 13-1 in league play last spring.
The Rebels return five all-conference players from last season as well as two others named Honorable Mention All-WRC.
Leading the way for the Rebels is senior catcher Kristen Jesberger, a John Carroll University commitment who was a second-team All-District selection last spring who hit .427 with 32 base hits, 13 doubles, 21 runs batted in and two home runs. She also threw out 11 of 25 would be base stealers.
“She’s the glue that holds the team together,” Dodson said. “Every year she has improved. She has saved the best for her last year.”
The rest of the South infield includes junior first baseman Raegen Williams, an all-league performer, freshman second baseman Mackenna Matriano, junior shortstop Mya Matriano and sophomore third baseman Ava Scott, an all-league performer.
Williams batted .316 last spring while Scott hit .253 with 15 RBI.
Matriano, an honorable mention All-District and first team All-WRC honoree, batted a team-best .538 with 33 runs scored and 19 runs out of the leadoff spot in the order. She also led the Rebels with a .782 on-base percentage and swiped 11 bases.
“She sets the table for us offensively,” Dodson said. “She is a great leadoff hitter, one of the best in the area, and is able to be the spark we need to get up early in games.”
Sophomore Kalie Eshelman, junior Hanna Blasinsky and junior Allison Cesar are projected to start in the outfield with Eshelman in left, Blasinsky, an honorable mention All-WRC performer, in center, and Cesar, also an honorable mention All-WRC honoree, in right.
Cesar, who recorded a .521 on-base percentage, led the Rebels with 12 stolen bases.
Sophomore Riley Frizell returns in the circle after an impressive freshman campaign.
She finished 16-3 with a 1.76 earned run average and 120 strikeouts in 119 innings pitched. She closed out the year with a no-hitter against rival North.
The University of Missouri commitment was equally impressive at the plate where she compiled a .506 batting average with 36 runs scored, eight doubles, 10 home runs and she knocked in a team-best 46 runs.
“She is a dream player,” Dodson said. “She is productive in all aspects, offensively, defensively, and on the mound. I’m excited to see what she does in her sophomore campaign.”
Juniors Ashley Yerse and Rachel Fawcett also will see time in the circle this spring. Fawcett struck out 28 in 59 innings and finished the year 4-3.
“Our pitching staff is deep and will keep us in any game,” Dodson said. “Offensively, we should be able to hang with anyone. Defensively, we return eight starters from last year. We should be very solid.”
The Rebels open the season at the Ripken Experience in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., on March 26.