WHEELING - Disappointed with last season's loss in the 2011 sectional tournament, the Wheeling Park softball team is counting on its young, but experienced, roster to make another run at a West Virginia Class AAA state tournament berth this spring.
Although just three seniors are among the Patriots' varsity performers, starters return nearly at every position.
Pitcher Alexis Phillips was the only graduate last June but also gone is outfielder Sissy George, who transferred to John Marshall.
''We had a good year, winning the OVAC regular season and tournament championships before faltering in the sectionals," said coach Dee Davis, who enters her 10th season at the helm. ''I like the team we have coming back.We've got a lot more experience and depth.''
Seniors hoping to lead Wheeling Park into the state tournament are right fielder Allie Dailer, already a three-year starter, pitcher-left fielder Kayla Kimmins and pitcher-outfielder Brittany Prager.
Second team all-stater Emily Puskarich, a first-team All-Valley and All-OVAC performer at shortstop, heads the junior class. Puskarich, entering her third year as a starter at the key middle infield position, batted .470 last spring with 30 hits and 13 RBI. The solid contact-hitter struck out only two times in 70-plus plate appearances.
Also back are two highly regarded sophomores in second baseman Marissa Tucker and third baseman Kelsi Johnson, both of whom also were named to the All-OVAC first team after excellent freshman seasons. Tucker, special honorable mention pick on the all-state team, hit at a .354 clip. Johnson, who received honorable mention, batted .356 with seven doubles.
One other all-conference player joining the Patriots is junior Taylor Whorton, a transfer from Wheeling Central. She was the Maroon Knights' regular second baseman and one of of the Region One, Class A champions' pitchers.
With Park's veteran infield already including Tucker at second, Puskarich at short and Johnson at third, Whorton is looking to crack the starting lineup at first base. However, also in the running are junior Kelly Albers, sophomore Samantha Criswell and freshman Skylar Carrington. Another infield candidate is freshman Anna Figaretti.
Whorton also should get some opportunities in the circle, although replacing the 10-game winner Phillips as Park's No.1 pitcher is sophomore Carly Greer.
Depth is one of the strong points of the Patriots' pitching staff as Kimmins, Whorton, Prager, Carrington and two other freshmen, Kendra Johnson and Lindsay Raper, also are hoping for their opportunities.
Junior Ashleigh Sidon returns behind the plate to handle the pitching staff, backed by junior Dustine McNabb, sophomore Audrey Clark and freshman Morgan Karnell.
On most days, the starting outfield will find Kimmins in left, Dailer in right and sophomore Keleigh Sidon in center.
Outfield backups are: junior Kaitlin Scott, sophomores Kristin Slater, Sarah Rodgers and Alyssa Rodriguez, along with freshmen Katie Fry, Isabella Ice and MaKayla McPherson.
Assistant coaches are Don Newland and Duane Bonnett.
WHEELING PARK 2012 SOFTBALL SCHEDULE
Mar. 24: at Pkb. South (2) 2 p.m.
Mar. 26: Steubenville 5 p.m.
Mar. 27: University 5 p.m.
Mar. 29: Morgantown 5 p.m.
Mar. 31: John Glen (at Edison) 1 p.m.
Mar. 31: at Edison 3 p.m.
Apr. 2: at Brooke 5 p.m.
Apr. 3: at John Marshall 5 p.m.
Apr. 5: Edison 5 p.m.
Apr. 10: at Morgantown 5 p.m.
Apr. 13: Washington (DH) 5 p.m.
Apr. 16: John Marshall 4:30 p.m.
Apr. 17: at University 5 p.m.
Apr. 18: at St. Clairsville 5 p.m.
May 1: at Steubenville 5 p.m.