Riverside returns six starters and two others with varsity experience from last year’s team that finished 22-4.
The Beavers, who were 11-3 in the Western Reserve Conference, do however have to replace several key contributors over the past four seasons.
“We are looking forward to seeing what this group can do,” said Riverside coach Bill Ross. “We have eight returning players from a 22-4 team, but need to fill the void left by graduating four four-year starters. Our seniors are bringing a lot of leadership and experience to this team.”
Among those seniors are three who already have signed or committed to continuing their playing careers in college.
Amanda Kolar, a third baseman, will play at Ashland University. She batted .529 last season with 35 runs batted in. Emma Kovalchuk, a shortstop, committed to Lake Erie College. She hit .556 last year with 32 RBI.
“Amanda Kolar and Emma Kovalchuk are natural leaders,” Ross said. “They will lock down the left side of the infield and hit 3-4 in the line-up. They are not just tough outs, but great kids to coach and exceptional teammates.”
Grace Fisher, a Notre Dame College signee, returns in the circle after posting an 11-3 record with a 1.38 earned run average. She fanned 146 batters in just 86 innings of work.
“Grace Fisher will be a rock in the circle,” Ross said. “She is primed to have a big season for us and should build on her junior campaign where she averaged over 10 strikeouts a game.”
Seniors Maren Kelly and Alli Buttari also return this season after strong junior campaigns. Kelly, who will play first base, batted .395 last season with 31 RBI. Buttari will team up with junior Kayla Bobeczko to provide the Beavers with a solid core in right and left fields, respectively.
“Maren Kelly is a consistent hitter that can really hit the long ball,” Ross said. “Alli Buttari and Kayla Bobeczko have both been chomping at the bit to be full-time starters and their time has come. They will both be solid contributors on both sides of the ball.”
Behind the dish, the Beavers will have one of the best in the area as junior Delaney Keith returns after hitting .421 last season. Another junior, Megan Lehner, rounds out the starting infield as she’ll post up at second base.
“Catcher Delaney Keith is a masher at the plate and just keeps getting better from behind the plate,” Ross said. “ Megan Lehner is poised for a breakout season. She had a solid sophomore season, but is taking her game to a new level this year.”
Sophomore Milana McCaleb and freshman Ei Jeras are two exciting newcomers who earned a starting nod in center field and as the designated player, respectively. Freshman Annaliese Davis also will see time in the circle and junior Makayla Boswell will play in the infield.
“Milana McCaleb is a speedy sophomore that will anchor center field for three years,” Ross said. “Freshman catcher Emi Jeras and freshman pitcher Annaliese Davis are going to be an exciting battery for Riverside. Junior Makayla Boswell with give us depth in the infield.”
Riverside’s strength lies in its upperclassmen and Ross will rely on them to continue to turn in a consistent effort in each game.
“Grace Fisher in the circle is a great strength for us. She brings experience and a strong work ethic to our team,” he said. “Our lineup should produce well too, anchored by our 3-5 hitters Amanda Kolar, Emma Kovalchuk, and Delaney Keith. We feel very confident in any girl that walks up to the plate.”
Expectations are high at Riverside and the Beavers will again be tested with a road trip to Myrtle Beach over spring break.
That will give the squad an opportunity to iron out some of the early season jitters and come together as a team for another successful run through the WRC and the postseason.
“We think we can compete with anyone on a softball field. We are looking forward to traveling to Myrtle Beach again and playing a tough schedule,” Ross said. “Every year you face the challenges of replacing seniors and getting young players ready to play at the varsity level. The girls have developed a culture that makes it easy for new players to adapt to our methods.”