NEW MARTINSVILLE-If experience, pitching and defense are the keys to winning championships, the Magnolia softball team appears to be in good shape heading into the 2012 season.
The strong points Coach Mark Batton's Blue Eagles bring to the table appear to be every one of the above staples.
For starters, Magnolia graduated just two key players last May, All-Ohio Valley Athletic Conference standout Abbey Horner and Gabby Hostetler. Eight letterwinners return, all of them with some starting experience on their resumes.
The pitching couldn't be better. Returning to the circle this spring for her fourth year is Tori Tharp, already a two-time All-West Virginia Class AA, three-time All-OVAC and two-time All-Valley first-team honoree.
Last season while pitching against the demanding schedule Batton's girls play each season, Tharp compiled 13-5 record with nearly all of her losses coming in close, low-run games. She struck out 153 batters in 113 innings, an average of more than one whiff per inning.
Tharp's miniscule earned run average of 0.77 was third-best in the entire area, trailing only Fort Frye's Victoria Mimken (0.48) and Cameron's Tara Paczewski (0.50). Her career won-lost record is 39-15 record with 599 strikeouts. Tharp's first ''K" of this spring will put her at the coveted 600 plateau.
''Tori's 599 strikeouts over three seasons is an incredible number," Coach Batton said. ''You don't see very many pitchers in the valley do that. The best part about her is that she is a really hard worker and is always looking for ways to improve herself."
From a defensive standpoint, Tharp will again be throwing to her very talented batterymate, senior catcher Marissa Bosley, a first-team OVAC and second-team All-Valley stalwart. Bosley also contributed heavily standing at the plate, batting at a .389 clip with 28 hits in 72 at-bats. Her totals included 10 doubles, two home runs and 28 runs batted in.
Other key letterwinners returning to the Blue Eagles lineup are seniors Dallas Mullett, hard-hitting, good-fielding shortstop with a team-best .425 batting average; third-baseman Jordan Babe, right fielder Emily Blake; second baseman Makenzie Dawson and left fielder Cassadi Wells. Babe batted.365 with 22 RBI; Blake hit a .309 clip and drove home 17 runs.
Another Blue Eagles standout coming off an impressive freshman season is pitcher-first baseman Mallory Chapman. The daughter of Magnolia girls' basketball coach Dave Chapman and already a two-year starter on hardwood, Mallory compiled a nifty .328 average last spring. She proved to be a dependable hitter with runners on base, knocking across 21 runs. Chapman pitching totals included a 3-1 record with an ERA of 1.75. She struck out 29 in 25 innings.
''As you can see with have a lot of experienced players who performed well in the past," Coach Batton noted. ''Our defense should be very strong again. Offense is something you never can predict because of the quality pitching we face every year. We're working hard on putting the ball in play to keep the pressure on our opponents' defense.
''Most of our girls coming back have hit the ball pretty well in the past but there is always room for improvement."
Others back on the squad with some playing experience are senior infielders Gauri Patel and Maghan Miler; junior outfielder Kennedy Slampak along with sophomores Erinn Clegg (pitcher-first baseman), Jordan Grimm (infielder) and Stephenie Mullett (outfielder).
First-year candidates include: senior Kayla Robinson, sophomore Ashley Moore and freshmen Abby Durig, Kasey Hilpert, Katie Blatt, Audrey Gibb and Allison Ritz.
Big school rivals John Marshall, Parkersburg, Brooke and Russell (Ky.) appear on the Magnolia schedule this spring. The away doubleheader against the Kentucky schedule was scheduled during the Blue Eagles' spring break which comes up during Easter Week.
Perennial strong local teams such as Fort Frye, St. Clairsville, Harrison Central, Martins Ferry, Cameron, Bellaire St. John Central and Wheeling Central Catholic also will present challenges for the Lady Blue Eagles along with backdoor neighbor River and West Virginia sectional rivals Weir and Tyler Consolidated.
Batton's assistant coach is Danny Anderson.
MAGNOLIA 2012 SOFTBALL SCHEDULE
March 21: at John Marshall 5 p.m.
March 24: Bellaire (2)Noon
March 26: River 4:30 p.m.
March 27: at Wheeling Central 5 p.m.
March 28: Tyler Consolidated 5 p.m.
March 29: at Weir 5:30 p..m.
March 31: at St. Clairsville (2) Noon
April 2: at Russell, KY (2) Noon
April 4: at Parkersburg (2) 11 a.m.
April 5: at Brooke (2) Noon
April 10: at River 4:30 p.m.
April 11: at Tyler Consolidated 5 p.m.
April 12: Cameron 5 p.m.
April 13-14: Magnolia TourneyTBA
April 16: Martins Ferry 5 p.m.
April 17: Harrison Central 6 p.m.
April 18: at Bellaire St. John Central5 p.m.
April 19: Weir 5:30 p.m.
April 20: Fort Frye (2) 5 p.m.
April 21: at Martins Ferry Noon
April 23: Wheeling Central 5 p.m.
April 26: at Harrison Central5:30 p.m.