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Central softball expects better season

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WARM UP: Clinton Central’s Ella Buzan, who will play second base for the Bulldogs, warms up during a practice on Monday. The team opens its season on April 3 at Frontier.
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HUDDLE UP: Clinton Central head coach Ed Cripe goes over some details with his team before they break practice on Monday.
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IN A PICKLE: Clinton Central shortstop Kaylea Whitcomb attempts to tag teammate Ella Buzan, who was caught between third and home, during an in-squad scrimmage at practice on Monday.
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DEEP DRIVE: It may look like a pop-up from the photo, but Clinton Central freshman Kendall Davison took this ball to the wall in right center during practice on Monday. Davison will play catcher for the Bulldogs this season.

BY ANDREW KRULL - akrull@ftimes.com

Clinton Central opens its softball season on April 3 at Frontier, with a more hopeful outlook thanks to several key upperclassmen returning and an influx of pitching depth from the freshmen class.

“This year we are looking to do a lot better than (last year),” Bulldogs head coach Ed Cripe said. “We've got a couple of freshmen pitchers coming up.”

He noted several returnees with experience in seniors Macy Ostler, Bailey Arnold, Kaylea Whitcomb and Kallie Mennen; juniors Cassidi Jenkins and Ella Bruzan; and sophomore Jasmine Gomez.

“And, the two freshmen that are coming in as pitchers are Autumn Bower and Haley Perkins that are going to help out,” Cripe said. “Last year, we had pitching but we didn't have pitching. This year we're going to have three pitchers, so that's going to help out tremendously.”

The number-one pitcher remains a work in progress, with the two freshmen adding depth along with Jenkins, who threw 51 innings last year.

“As yet to be determined, we're still working to see who is going to be our number one,” Cripe said. “(The freshmen) played travel ball (and had success there).”

At the plate, the Bulldogs have several solid hitters returning with the coach looking to see what the freshmen add once the weather warms up and they can face more live pitching.

“Our top hitters are probably going to be Cassidi, Whitcomb -- and Ella is pretty good,” Cripe said. “As a power hitter-wise, Macy Ostler can hit the ball pretty well and Kallie Mennen.”

Jenkins led Central with a .348 batting average last year as well as with 15 RBIs. Buzan followed at .333 with a team-high 24 hits and 20 runs scored, while Whitcomb was right behind at .316 with 15 runs scored and nine RBIs. Ostler hit .217 with a team-high two home runs.

Other returnees with significant plate appearances last year include Arnold (.211 batting average with a .291 on-base percentage), Mennen (.190 and .277) and Gomez (.128 and .212).

“I'm kind of interested to see how the two freshmen do,” Cripe said on Monday. “In the cage, of course soft-toss and stuff, they've got a lot of power. I'm ready to see them against a live-arm. Sometime, during the end of the week, we'll have our pitchers pitching to them.

“We do have another freshman coming in,” he said. “She'll probably be our catcher in Kendall Davison.”

Along with Davison, Cripe expected his defense to feature Mennen at first, Buzan at second, Whitcomb at short, Jenkins at third, Bower in left (when not pitching), Arnold in center and Ostler and Gomez getting time in right.

The Bulldogs finished 7-14 last year and 3-4 in the Hoosier Heartland Conference. They will likely find out fairly quickly how much they've improved, with a measuring-stick game against Frontier to start the season on April 3.

“At Frontier, that is going to be a test right there,” Cripe said. “They're pretty solid. Frontier is going to be tough, but I think we're going to hold our ground against them this year.

“Last year, we got beat by them pretty bad, but this year it's going to be a different story. We'll have a pretty solid team this year. I have high expectations, let's put it that way.”

Frontier handled the Bulldogs 15-2 in five innings to start last season.

“Our first two are away,” Cripe noted. “We play Frontier and then we play Delphi (April 4) and then that following weekend we have the CC tournament here (on April 6).”

Outside of looking for improvement, he isn't making any predictions.

"Conference-wise, Rossville is always pretty solid,” Cripe said. “They have (Emma) Baumgardt (returning). She's a senior and a good pitcher. Prairie I don't know who they have now.”

Two things he is encouraged by are greater numbers that should give his younger players even more chances to get playing time and a solid coaching staff.

“We have 20, 21 (players) right now,” Cripe noted. “I'm hoping we're going to have a JV this year for the first year in a while.

“We've got a pretty good coaching staff this year,” he said. “My daughter Riley Cripe, she graduated and played softball at Marian. She's brought a lot of good insight to the team."

Central head wrestling coach Austin Faulkner is also contributing as an assistant and recent graduate Kyleigh Carr is also helping the squad.

Other key games for the Bulldogs this season include the Clinton Prairie Classic on April 13, conference games against county rivals Clinton Prairie (away) on April 16 and Rossville (at home) on April 18, the county tournament at Clinton Prairie on April 27 and a home date with Frankfort on May 10. The sectional starts at Rossville on May 20.

“Like I said, I have big expectations for this year,” Cripe said. “We're going to be ready.”