The 2021 North Union softball team is as follows: row one, from the left, Zoe Wedding, Jada Davis, Chailyn Fishbaugh, Ryleigh Rasey and Cagney Stewart. Row two, from the left, Jayla Kelly, Regan Martino, Laney Converse, Kennady Ruhl and Jacklyn Fishbaugh. Row three, from the left, Bailee Amstutz, Laine Sparks, Savannah Queen, Lindsay Willis and coach Dawn Draper. Row Four, from the left, coach Steve Allen, coach Logan Martino, Candace Holloway, Kayla Sedgwick, Reese DeCamp, Emma Padavano, manager JoshRayburn and coach Terry Setser. (Journal-Tribune photo by Sam Dillon)
North Union head coach Dawn Draper and her Lady Cat softball team are looking at the positives to the past year without a season.
This year will be the first time that softball has been played in the Ohio High School Athletic Association since June of 2019.
COVID-19 impacted high school softball in March of 2020, canceling any hope of playing ball.
Draper said the lack of a season has affected her team in the ‘best way possible.’
“They are so ready to get this season started,” she said. “They all have worked so hard in the off-season and want to be on the field more than ever for the 2021 season.”
Even with a gap year, the Lady Cats still have players returning with solid varsity experience.
Kennady Ruhl, Kayla Sedgwick, Jackie Fishbaugh, Candace Halloway, Laney Converse and Regan Martino are all returning to the field for the Lady Cats.
Several of these athletes are coming off injuries that cause pause for Draper.
“These ladies have worked hard in the off-season and are doing well currently, but further injuries and recurring injuries would not be beneficial to the season because they are all important players to our success,” she said.
Ruhl, who is the Lady Cats’ catcher, is also NU’s top performer at the plate.
She is returning to the lineup with a team-leading 30 RBIs, five home runs and a .443 batting average.
Halloway is back at first base where she amassed a .963 field percentage and .387 BA.
Converse will return to third base. In the 2019 season, she notched 25 hits on 72 plate appearances and drove in 19 runs.
The four-year starter Martino will take up her position at second base where she tallied 40 putouts and .932 fielding percentage in 2019.
The Wildcats will have an experienced outfield with Sedgwick and Fishbaugh returning to take up positions in the grass.
With all the returning talent, Draper is still on the hunt to fill a few positions with those from the sophomore or freshmen classes.
She added many of her players are pretty flexible and can play different positions.
“We have a good amount of kids who are utility players and can play many positions with great success,” she said.
One of the spots that needs to be filled will be inside the pitching circle.
Draper, though, has her eye on a few players to fill the role.
Bailee Amstutz and Laine Sparks are both returning to the team as sophomores and were slated to see time on the rubber a year ago.
Reese DeCamp is a freshman who the coach has also been keeping her eye on as a possibility at pitcher.
Draper said all them bring something different to the circle.
“Pitching will be a plus this year with several pitchers who have different strengths and skills,” she said.
With all of the positions sorted out, the Lady Cats have high hopes this year, starting with a Central Buckeye Conference championship.
North Union finished the 2019 regular season with a 20-5 record and a 13-3 record in the CBC.
The Lady Cats finished a game behind Benjamin Logan, who won the Mad River Division title.
Draper believes the Raiders are once again a force of which to be reckoned.
“I look for Shawnee and Ben Logan to be high contenders,” Draper said. “We always love playing those teams and showing how our hard work pays off.
“We gave Ben Logan and Shawnee great games during the season,” she said. “We lost to Ben Logan in the last inning on a great hit.”
The goals, though, don’t stop at a CBC title.
“We always set the bar high for our team to win the CBC, become district champions and move forward to the state tournament,” Draper said.
The Lady Cats philosophy for getting there is to take it one step at a time.
“We like to focus on winning each inning we play and therefore you will not ever lose a game,” she said.