The Goshen College softball team is off to a slow start so far in 2012-13. The Maple Leafs went 0-10 on a recent trip to Florida.
But for fifth-year head coach Lee Mast, the trip was about playing high-level competition to get his team ready for a hectic Crossroads League slate that starts later this month.
The Crossroads schedule features 18 games in less than 30 days.
Two league teams, Indiana Wesleyan (No. 24) and Marian (receiving votes) were garnering preseason accolades from NAIA poll voters.
Mast thinks his team can be part of the conversation as the season rolls on.
“We want to be fighting for a spot in the top four in the conference,” Mast said. “We have the personnel that I think we can do that and the kids think that it is very possible.”
Five of the games on the recent Florida trip were against teams ranked in the preseason NAIA poll, with another four against programs in the South that were already deep into their seasons.
On the week, Ame Blankenship led the Maple Leafs with a .417 batting average, going 10-for-24. Sophomore Savannah Hippensteel batted .333 with two home runs and a team-high five RBIs, while Meyer had seven steals in nine attempts.
Despite the lack of wins on the trip, Mast saw some positives.
Improved defense is one of those positives and Mast is hoping that defense will keep his team in games as the pitching and offense come along.
Experience and youth
Position-wise, the lineup will be a mixture of experience and youth. On the left side of the infield, Anderson University transfer and former Northridge standout Kerri Doutlick, a sophomore, will share time with junior Christine Stubblefield.
Stubblefield struggled with the injury bug last season, but was still able to lead the Maple Leafs in walks with 12 and finish with a .321 on-base percentage.
Doutlick, meanwhile, batted .407 her senior season for the Raiders and was a two-time All-NLC selection.
Doutlick will be reunited with a former teammate in the infield as former Northridge standout Brittany Wingard takes over shortstop duties for the Maple Leafs.
Wingard helped lead the Raiders to a 30-2 record and an appearance in the semistate finals last season, earning second-team All-State honors.
Sophomore Sam Langley saw action in just four games in 2012 before seeing her season ended by an injury, but is back strong in 2013 and could share time at second base with senior Jana Beitler.
Beitler batted .278 in 2012, scored 20 runs and led the Maple Leafs with eight sacrifices.
At first base, a pair of sluggers will platoon. Blankenship hit .248 with 17 RBIs in 2012, while sophomore Savannah Hippensteel led Goshen with four homers and 24 RBIs.
In the outfield, a familiar face to area softball fans returns to anchor that group. Sophomore Melanie Meyer, a Concord product, had an outstanding freshman season in 2012, batting .318 with six doubles, three triples, two homers, 16 RBIs and a school-record 16 stolen bases. That was good for No. 8 in the country last season.
Meyer will again lead off for Goshen. The other two outfield spots are still in flux. Freshmen Morgan Owens and Morgan Chilton will both see time in right. Wingard could also see time in right, and other outfield possibilities include sophomore Danielle Kerschhacki,freshmen Kourtney Mueller and Abby Flickner.
The catcher position has been very stable the past few seasons as senior Kelsey Morris has logged 117 games there over the past three seasons. A career .287 hitter, Morris has 19 career doubles, five homers, and 51 RBIs. Also good with the glove and arm, Morris has thrown out 28 runners in her career, including a career-high 13 a year ago.
In the circle
Pitching will be a group affair. Returnees Maria Koshmider, a senior, and Grace Ispas, accounted for 27 of the Maple Leafs’ 43 starts in 2012. Ispas was 5-7 with a 4.07 ERA. Koshmider, meanwhile, has hurled 212 career innings and has 98 career strikeouts, making her experience an asset.
Blankenship is set to return to the circle after not pitching in 2012. Blankenship made 33 appearances, including 13 starts, for Goshen in her freshman and sophomore campaigns. Blankenship has a career ERA of 4.77 with 46 strikeouts in 86 2/3 innings. Freshman Kylee Welch, with an unorthodox delivery, could be an option when Mast wants a change.
Goshen is scheduled to host Lourdes University Friday, in a doubleheader scheduled to start at 3 p.m.