If the pre-season coaches' poll is any indication, two-time defending 11th Region champion Scott County, ranked at No. 9, is favored to go for three, but several Lexington schools could have something to say about that by season's end.
No. 13 Paul Dunbar is one contender with several key players returning, but they will have to rebuild without longtime starters Casey Cravens and Katie Rose, who graduated.
Other ranked city teams include No. 22 Lexington Catholic, which advanced to the region championship game and returns a core group of players, as well as No. 24 Lafayette, which has nearly everyone back.
Coach: Brad White
Last year: 4-27 (lost to Henry Clay in the first round of district tournament)
Top players: Cidney Brock (sr., if); Ashley McMenama (sr., of); Jordan Ellis (jr., c/if); Stephanie Hamilton (jr., if/p); Tia Blakeman (jr., of/p)
Outlook: After coaching baseball for the past 11 years in Florida, White takes over a Bryan Station team that has struggled to win the past few seasons. But the Defenders return a core group from last year and should be much improved by districts, White said. Brock should continue to lead the offensive charge, and Blakeman and Hamilton are back on the mound. Look for middle-schoolers Samantha Hensley and Megan Hoovler to make a quick impact. A lack of depth and experience are a concern, White said, but he likes the team's willingness to learn and desire to get better.
Lady Defenders' schedule
Friday—Paul Dunbar, 5:30
April 7—at Lafayette, 7:30; 8—at Scott Co., 5:30; 9—at Model, 5:30; 10—at Tates Creek, 5; 14—Scott Co., 5:30; 16—Bishop Brossart, 5:15; 17—at Henry Clay, 5:30; 18—at Somerset Showcase, three games, TBA; 22—Madison Southern, 5:30; 23—Henry Clay, 6; 27—Tates Creek, 6; 29—at East Jessamine, 5:30; 30—Lexington Christian, 5
May 1—at Paul Dunbar, 8:30; 4—Lafayette, 5; 6—East Jessamine, 5:30; 7—Mason Co., 5:30; 9—at Cross-town Classic in Jessamine Co. vs. Pulaski Co, 10:30 a.m.; 11—Model, 6; 12—Franklin Co., 5:30
Coach: Mark Reese
Last year: 24-15 (lost to Lexington Catholic in the semifinals of region tournament)
Top players: Hannah Simpson (so., ss/c); Lisa Grossman (sr., of); Chelsey Bleck (sr., of); Tamara McGlothin (jr., 1b); Shandra Williams (fr., dp)
Outlook: Reese, a former coach at Scott County, is out of retirement and coaching what he called the "youngest puppies in the 11th Region." He has 21 players who are freshmen or younger, but he likes their athleticism and talent level. The Devils lost the nucleus of what was their most successful team ever, including star pitcher Karneisha Johnson and infielder Laura Derrickson. They also are going to have to adapt to a new system. The Devils, even without Coach Tricia Crowe, learned how to win last season and have players back from that group, so they should find success as the season goes on. Pitching will be a huge question mark, especially early.
Lady Devils' schedule
Thursday—at Franklin Co., 5:30; Friday—at Estill Co., 6
April 6—Paul Dunbar, 5:30; 7—Clark Co., 5; 9—Scott Co., 5:30; 11—Tates Creek Round Robin vs. Bullitt Central, 7; 13—at Tates Creek, 6; 14—at Lafayette, 6; 15—at Grant Co., 5:30; 17 —Bryan Station, 5:30; 18—AFB Capitol City Showcase at Franklin Co., TBA; 20—at Scott Co., 5:30; 23—at Bryan Station, 6; 24—at Kentucky 5 Star Classic vs. North Laurel, TBA; 27—at Clark Co., 5:30; 28—Berea, 6; 30—Woodford Co., 5:30
May 1—Model, 5:30 and Anderson Co., 7:30; 4—Paul Dunbar, 5:30; 5—Tates Creek, 5:30; 7—Lafayette, 5:30; 8—Estill Co., 6; 9—at Cross-town Classic at Jessamine Co., TBA; 13—at Anderson Co., 5:30; 14—at Madison Southern, 5:30
Coach: Dana Taylor
Last year: 21-13 (lost to Lexington Catholic in the first round of district tournament)
Top players: Kylee Johnson (sr., p); Sam Youngblood (sr., c); Heather Oakley (jr., of); Alyssa Oakley (so., if); Cassidy Taylor (so., p/if); Lauren Mitchell (so., if)
Outlook: With a No. 24 statewide ranking in the pre-season coaches' poll, the Generals might be the most underrated city team. They return a core group of starters, including pitchers Johnson (1.22 ERA with 76 strikeouts) and Taylor (0.91 ERA with 62 strikeouts). Emily Kincaid also will see innings on the mound. Lafayette returns all but one infielder and will be strong defensively. That group includes shortstop Lauren Mitchell, who is back from wrist surgery. On the offensive end, returning stars Youngblood and Alyssa Oakley will carry the load early but will need help from the rest of the lineup.
Lady Generals' schedule
Thursday—at East Jessamine, 6; Friday-Saturday—Warren East Invitational, TBA
April 7—Bryan Station, 7:30; 9—Tates Creek, 6; 10-11—at Boyd Co. Showcase, TBA; 14—Henry Clay, 6; 17-18—AFB Capitol City Showcase, TBA; 21—Paul Dunbar, 6; 23—at Tates Creek, 6; 24-25—Kentucky 5 Star Classic at North Laurel, TBA; 27—at Eastern Round Robin, TBA; 28—at Paul Dunbar, 5:30; 30—at North Laurel, 6
May 1-2—Derby Classic, TBA; 4—Bryan Station, 5; 6—Woodford Co., 6; 7—at Henry Clay, 5:30; 11—Anderson Co., 6; 13—South Laurel, 6
Coach: Bob Griggs
Last year: 20-19 (lost to Scott County in region championship)
Top players: Casey Cleary (sr., p/3b); Rachel Hollembaek (jr., 2b); Hannah Simms (jr., c); Jill Maronde (fr., ss)
Outlook: The Knights surprised some with a late post-season surge that got them all of the way to the region championship game, and they'd like to do that again with a core group of returning starters including pitcher and team captain Cleary. The senior and junior Hollembaek were the team's top two hitters last season. Expect Catholic, ranked No. 22 in the pre-season coaches' poll, to be strong defensively, especially its veteran infield. The Knights are without longtime starters Mercedes Davis, Sarah Appleman and Caitlin Medley, but they should be a force at the end of the season. The team has several good hitters scattered throughout the lineup, which could make it difficult to stop, Griggs said.
Lady Knights' schedule
March 29-April 3—at Fort Walton Beach Bash, TBA; 7—Madison Central, 5:30; 8—at Grant Co., 5:30; 11—at Louisa vs. Johnson Central, noon, vs. Grant Co., 5:30, vs. Lawrence Co., 3; 14—Bath Co., 5:30; 15—at Franklin Co., 5:30; 17-18—Cumberland Falls Classic at Corbin, TBA; 21—at Clark Co., 5:30; 23—Harrison Co., 5:30; 24—South Laurel, 5:45; 24—Raceland, 8:45; 28—at Montgomery Co., 5:30; 29—Scott Co., 5:30
May 1-2—Lady Knights Memorial Tournament, TBA; 5—at Lexington Christian, 5:30; 7—West Jessamine, 7; 9-10—at LaRue Co. Tournament, TBA; 12—Madison Southern, 5:30; 14—at Western Hills, 5:30; 16—Allen Co.-Scottsville, 10 a.m.; 16—Lawrence Co., 11:45 a.m.
Coach: Mark Haake
Last year: 2-19 (lost to Tates Creek in the first round of district tournament)
Top players: Cassandra Byrd (jr., ss); Briana Dawson (so., 1b); Shelby Slusher (jr., if); Emily Yocum (jr., of)
Outlook: The Eagles have a deep junior class with Byrd, Yocum and Slusher leading the way. That group could make LCA a much improved team by the end of the season and next season. But the Eagles will continue to rebuild, this time with new coach Haake. The first-year coach likes the experience in the infield, but is concerned about inexperience at pitcher, listing only junior Sarah Miller at the position, and the team's lack of overall depth.
Lady Eagles' schedule
Friday—Berea, 5:30; Saturday—at Mercer Co., 11 a.m.; 30—Paris, 5:30; 31—Frankfort, 5:30
April 2—at Burgin, 5:30; 9—Burgin, 5:30; 10-11 —Lexington Christian Tournament, TBA; 13—at Menifee Co., 5:30; 16—Tates Creek, 5:30; 17-18—All "A" Classic, TBA; 20—Menifee Co., 6; 21—at Berea, 5:30; 22—at Paris, 5:30; 24-25—Bulldog Bash at Holmes vs. TBA; 28—at West Jessamine, 5; 30—at Bryan Station, 5
May 4—Bath Co., 5:30; 5—Lexington Catholic, 5:30; 7—at Tates Creek, 6; 9—Lexington Christian Tournament, TBA; 12—at Nicholas Co., 5:30; 13—Mercer Co., 5:30; 14—at Frankfort, 5:30; 15—at Riverside Christian, 5:45.
Coach: Mike Wainscott
Last year: 26-8 (lost to Scott County in extra innings in region semifinals)
Top players: Mariya Kobayashi (sr., 2b); Brandi Ore (sr., p/of); Maggie Shell (so., 1b); Corie Roberts (jr., of)
Outlook: The Bulldogs lost five starters, including longtime starting pitchers Katie Rose and Casey Cravens, so it's not a stretch to call it a rebuilding year. "It's not the team we have been in the past, but if we work hard, good things will happen," Wainscott said. The Dogs do return starting pitcher Ore (15-3), but scoring runs will be the most difficult part, the coach said. Shell is the team's top returning hitter (.309) and Wainscott looks for her, Roberts, Kobayashi and Ore to carry the offensive load until the less experienced girls gain some playing time. "We're optimistic, but it might take a while to get things going," he said.
Lady Bulldogs' schedule
Thursday—at Bryan Station, 5:30; April 6—at Henry Clay, 5:30; 7—North Laurel, 6; 9—at Franklin Co., 5:30; 13—Clark Co., 5:30; 14—at Tates Creek, 6; 15—at Madison Southern, 5:30; 17—at Montgomery Co. Invitational, TBA; 20—Tates Creek, 5:30; 21—at Lafayette, 6; 24—Big Eight Classic at Clark Co., TBA; 27—Mercer Co., 5:30; 28—Lafayette, 5:30; 29—Boyle Co., 5:30
May 1—Anderson Co., 5:30 and Bryan Station, 8:30; 4—Henry Clay, 5:30; 5—Montgomery Co., 5:30; 6—Madison Central, 5:30; 11—Nelson Co., 5:30; 12—East Jessamine, 5:30; 13—Model, 5:30
Coach: Cindy Eason and Annie Rardin
Last year: 0-7 (did not participate in post-season)
Top players: Emily Colclough (jr., of); Elizabeth Pagen (jr., if/p); Mandy Kaiser (jr., of); Rebecca Price (sr., c/if); Alex Gibson (jr., if)
Outlook: Eason and Rardin lead a Spartans team that has "realistic goals" and the passion to work hard regardless of the score or the team record. A core group of juniors return and will lead a group that did not play a full season last year. The Spartans are trying to work on consistency on defense and confidence on offense, Eason said.
Lady Spartans' schedule
Thursday—at Menifee Co., 5:45
April 8—Shawnee, 5:30; 9—at Portland Christian, 5; 13—at Bath Co., 6; 14—Nicholas Co., 6; 16—St. Patrick, 5:30; 20—at Burgin, 6; 22—Menifee Co, 6:15; 24—Bluegrass Conference Tournament, TBA; 27—at Shawnee, 5:30; 28—Portland Christian, 5
May 11—Burgin, 6; 13—at Collegiate, 5:30; 15—St. Patrick, 5:30
Coach: Jeff Shearer
Last year: 3-29 (lost to Paul Dunbar in semifinals of district tournament)
Top players: Ashley Block (jr., cf); Megan Banahan (so., 3b); Finley Yuttayong (8th, p)
Outlook: For the first time in his four seasons, Shearer has a group of 12 or 13 players competing for playing time, and the depth is helping the team become more competitive. It is the most capable level of players that the coach has had. Some of that depth includes transfers Jazz Day and Nova Arnold, who should have an impact. Shearer likes the team's attitude and hustle, but he doesn't return much experience, especially at pitcher. Yuttayong, an eighth-grader, and Banahan probably will see a majority of the pitching time. "This team's set some lofty goals, but they're reachable," he said. "We're capable of improving fast and hope to be competitive by season's end."
Lady Commodores' schedule
Thursday—at Woodford Co., 6
April 6—Williamstown, 6; 7—at West Jessamine, 5:45; 9—at Lafayette, 6; 10—Bryan Station, 5 and Madison Central, 8; 11—Tates Creek Round Robin, TBA; 13—Henry Clay, 6; 14—Paul Dunbar, 6; 16—at Lexington Christian, 5:30; 17—Madison Central, 7 and Madison Southern, 8:30; 18—Tates Creek Round Robin, TBA; 20—at Paul Dunbar, 11:30; 23—Lafayette, 6; 25—Lady Colonel First Priority/UNITE Softball Classic vs. Cumberland Co. at Whitley Co., 12:30; 27—at Bryan Station, 6; 28—East Jessamine, 6; 30—Harrison Co., 6
May 2—at Bath Co., 11 a.m. and vs. Magoffin Co. at Bath Co., 2; 5—at Henry Clay, 5:30; 7—Lexington Christian, 6; 8—vs. Powell Co. at Montgomery Co., 7:15 and vs. Montgomery Co., 9; 13—at Franklin Co., 6; 15—Paris, 6; 16—Round Robin at Tates Creek, TBA