|Register File Photo/Jocelyn Sheets
Sophomore Shawna Blakesley is set to help lead Allen County Community College through the 2010 softball season and back into the playoffs. The Red Devils open the season Wednesday at home.
Not only hosting but winning a first-round Region VI playoff series was big for the Allen County Community College softball program in 2009.
That team went 1-1 in Region VI tournament action. It finished at 29-30 — the best season in a decade for Allen County softball.
Eight players return from last year’s team to help lead the Red Devils through the 2010 softball season. The Red Devil softball team saw its ranks swell to 21 players — 13 are freshmen — for this season.
“It’s really great to have not just numbers but quality depth to work with this year,” said Ed Wilkerson, who is in his fourth season as ACCC head softball coach. “We have better athletes teamwise than we’ve had since I’ve been here.
“It’s a matter of executing on the field and finding the right roles for each player.”
According to Wilkerson, versatility is the main strength of the Red Devils this season. He and second-year assistant coach Jamie Amerine are working to find the right combination of players “and get playing time for everyone. That’s a nice problem to have.”
Returning for the Red Devils are sophomores Shawna Blakesley, Amy Carr, Autumn Lamle, Amy McAfee, Kristina Popejoy, Chalice Schmollinger, Kas-sie Summers and Brianne Campbell.
Freshmen on the team are Lenzie Boring, Megan Dillow, Kelci Owens and Callie Umholtz — all from the Humboldt High squad— plus Iola High’s Jenna Sigg and Kylie Taylor. Blakesley and Carr are out of the IHS softball program as well.
Other freshmen on the ACCC team are Javyn Carl, Jori Graf, Brandie Hutcheson, Kayla Johnston, De-nise Swanson, Kelsey Walters and Maddy Wilson.
Blakesley was Allen County’s second leading hitter a year ago with a .372 batting average. She led the team with 17 doubles, while driving in 29 runs and scoring 34.
“Shawna had a really good freshman year offensively. She has gotten strong defensively and is becoming a vocal leader on the field, which is something we need,” Wilkerson said. “We lost our vocal leaders from last year and we need players to step into those roles.”
Blakesley, who played several infield spots last year, is slotted to play second base this year.
Popejoy was ACCC’s starting first baseman last year. She was second on the team in RBIs with 36. She hit .261 with 11 doubles among her 48 hits. She scored 24 runs.
“Kristina’s strength is her hitting. She’s a solid defensive player at first,” Wilkerson said.
Lamle, who didn’t join the ACCC team a year ago until after spring break, led the team with eight home runs. She hit .241, drove in 24 runs and scored 25 runs.
Lamle will start in the outfield and has worked some on the infield this season.
“Autumn has really good power numbers at the plate but she’s also got a strong arm and we’re excited to see what she can do in a full season,” Wilkerson said.
Carr, McAfee and Summers are outfielders. Carr and McAfee saw limited duty last year. Carr was used as a designed hitter and pinchrunner. McAfee was forced out of the lineup because of illness.
“Amy Carr had an outstanding fall for us and is developing her offensive skills. She hits from the left side and is a slap hitter, plus has good speed on the bases. Amy McAfee primarily will be used as a pitcher this season,” Wilkerson said.
Summers is a strong defensive player, Wilkerson said, and will play left field. She hit .227 with seven RBIs and 12 runs scored.
Schmollinger returns as starting catcher for ACCC. She hit .261 with 23 hits, eight RBIs and 14 runs scored.
“Chalice does a good job of framing pitches and has a strong arm behind the plate,” Wilkerson said.
Allen County has its leading pitcher back in Campbell. Campbell went 13-9 in 1361⁄3 innings. She had a 5.032 earned run average. She recorded 85 strikeouts, gave up 176 hits and walked 36.
“Brianne is a control pitcher. She moves the ball around and changes things up on hitters,” Wilkerson said.
Moving McAfee to a pitcher and with the addition of two freshmen pitchers, the Red Devils have a solid pitching staff. Boring and Dillow bring good numbers on the mound from high school softball.
“Lenzie had a strong fall season for us. She’s a good athlete and will be batting for herself when she pitches. Megan will play in the outfield when she’s not pitching. Megan has good speed and she hit the ball pretty well during the fall and practices,” Wilkerson said.
Hutcheson gives the Red Devils another solid first baseman. Wilkerson said she has a strong arm and good power at the plate.
Owens is an infielder and probably will start at short stop. Wilkerson said Owens is really consistent with the glove and has shown im-provement in her hitting.
Sigg is ACCC’s starting third baseman. She brings power and speed at the plate and in the field. Wilkerson said Sigg has a strong arm and fields well.
Graf has been working primarily on the infield but is a good outfielder. Wilkerson said Graf hits from the left side and will slap hit the ball.
Allen County has another strong catcher in Taylor. Wilkerson said Taylor has a strong arm and quick release. She is a left-handed hitter and is working on her hitting skills. Also working behind the plate will be Wilson; she also will get time in the outfield.
Carl is a second baseman and outfielder who works hard, Wilkerson said. Once she makes the transition, especially at the plate, to the speed of the college game, she’ll see her playing time increase, Wilkerson said.
The same is true with Johnston, who is a good defensive outfielder with some speed, and Swanson, who is a good outfielder.
“We have a lot of players who can play a variety of spots. That versatility is a good thing to have.”
Umholtz is slotted for the outfield with a strong arm and solid defensive skills. She also is a good hitter. Walters is slated to start in right field and is a good hitter.
“I believe we have more consistent power and good team speed throughout our batting order this season,” Wilkerson said. “That balance should help us score runs in several ways.”
Wilkerson said the ACCC pitchers will be competitive and have worked hard in the fall and off-season to become consistent.
“I expect them to keep the ball in play so our defense can make plays,” he said. “We have good athletes in the field and they can cover a lot of ground. It comes down to executing and communicating on the field.”
Allen County was to have opened the season today at home but field conditions bumped the season-opener to Wednesday.
Labette Community College of Parsons comes to Iola for a doubleheader starting a 2 p.m.
The Red Devils have a five-date homestand — Wednesday through March 4 — to open the season, then got on the road for awhile. Their next homestand begins March 16.
Allen County will have one more extended run at home during the season, April 6-April 10.
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