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High hopes abound around Austintown softball
March 25, 2020

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If and when the 2020 high school softball season commences, the Austintown Fitch team should be one of the best in the area.

The Lady Falcons are the defending All American Conference champions and are the owners of a sectional championship. When they lost the district semifinals to eventual champion Solon, a lot of seniors ended their high school careers. Head coach Steve Ward recognizes that, but when he speaks, there is an air of confidence in his voice.

"We have to replace a very talented senior class, but the players we have filling those positions have talent too," Ward said. "We have high hopes this year."

A lot of those hopes are centered around a trio of seniors that all come back in 2020. The most experienced is middle infielder Ashley Mickey, who is a three-time letter winner. She hit over .300 last year and is a slick fielder who saves a ton of hits.

"(Mickey) is a solid player who is always ready to make plays," said Ward.

Relief pitcher Kaitlyn Evanko comes out of Fitch's bullpen to shut down the competition in the late innings. She can also hurt opposing pitchers from the plate as well.

"(Evanko) is a vital part of our game plan," Ward said. "She comes in as our closer and just throws teams off balance. She also brings a big bat (to our lineup)."

The third senior returnee is letter winner Jenna Chmelik, who sees most of the time behind the plate. Before preseason warm-ups were postponed, Chmelik was shining brightly.

"She has had a great few weeks of practice," Ward said about his catcher.

One of the most important players on the entire Fitch roster is junior Lydia Spalding. The 5-foot-7 starting pitcher had a breakout season as a sophomore. Ward has seen nothing so far to dispute that Spalding's junior season will be just as good.

"Amazingly she's gotten bigger, stronger and faster," Ward said. "We look for her to get the all-time (school) strikeout record this year. She is one of the most humble, hard-working and tenacious athletes I've ever been around."

Spalding will play outfield when she's not in the circle, as will many other juniors. In the middle of the pasture should be centerfielder Sydney Shaffer.

"(Shaffer) has had a great offseason and has locked down centerfield with her speed and glove," Ward said.

The only returning outfielder will be Haley Tarr. Also in the outfield is the junior duo of Anna Skarbinski and Mya McNevin. The former was a shortstop in her sophomore year before an injury forced her to end her season earlier than expected. The latter was cited by her coach for being a gutty defender who will "run through a wall" to catch a ball.

Middle infielder Elyssa Molody was another Falcon that fell victim to the injury bug in 2019 but is being counted upon to have an extra-large junior campaign.

"(Molody) bounced back from an injury filled sophomore season to emerge as one of our more explosive athletes," said Ward.

While the Falcons are stocked with a great upper class, they also have around nine younger girls that should all complete for plenty of playing time this season. Perhaps the best of that bunch is first baseman Maddy Taylor. The sophomore had a great year as a freshman as she slugged the ball at a .500 clip. She is already being recruited by multiple Division I colleges.

"(Taylor) is a complete player who even broke the record for front squat this offseason," said Ward.

Third baseman Sophia Sendiak, left hand pitcher Kayla Schubert and middle infielder Ali Foley are three other sophomores who are about to shine according to Ward.

"(Sendiak) has a cannon arm and has earned the confidence of our staff," said the coach. "(Schubert and Foley) will try to break into the varsity lineup as well."

Catcher McKenna Hogan, utility player Caitlin Mitchell, Madi Beautis and Lia Hill are a quartet of freshmen who the coach believes can all be strong players this spring. Hogan may have the most opportunity to crack the starting lineup.

"(Hogan) has a big bat and strong arm," Ward said. "Her work ethic has earned the respect of the older players."

With a stellar set of athletes like these, expectations are indeed high around the Fitch campus. Still, Ward warns against overconfidence.

"We have a completely new and more inexperienced team, so we don't want to look back at last year," he said. "We have confidence and believe in each other. We have the ability to compete at a high level. Our overall goal is always to improve throughout the season and play our best ball in May. I am so proud of the effort these girls have put in since the start of the offseason."

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