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Gophers buried by Harrison

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HOT-CORNER HADLEY: Clinton Prairie third-baseman Hadley Wilson throws out a runner at first during Prairie's game with Harrison on Thursday.
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SOPH STARTER: Clinton Prairie sophomore Rebekah Stephens started for the Gophers in the circle during Thursday's game with Harrison.
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GOOD JOB: Clinton Prairie freshman Maddie Cornell receives a high-five from first-base coach Steve Beaver after getting a single late in Thursday's game with Harrison.
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GOOD EYE: Clinton Prairie's Hannah Wilson watches a high-and-tight pitch go by during the Gophers' loss to Harrison on Thursday.

BY ANDREW KRULL - akrull@ftimes.com

Clinton Prairie dropped to 0-2 in softball with a 14-1 loss to visiting Harrison on Thursday, but the tough competition early in the season is by design and Gophers' head coach Randy Cooper likes what he sees in his group featuring four seniors and a lot of youth.

“(Harrison)'s a (Class) 4A school,” he said. “It's like I told the girls, when I first came here back in '93 they were playing nobodies and you didn't have any competition. We wanted to play competition and reworked the schedule basically so we've got some big schools on our schedule to compete with and make ourselves better.”

Last year, the Gophers began the season with a loss to Harrison, which went 26-3 advancing to the Class 4A regional, and was 0-3 before finishing 16-9 on the season and 6-1 in the Hoosier Heartland Conference (just behind undefeated Taylor).

Prairie began its season on Monday with a 6-1 loss to Tri-West (Hendricks).

“They're a 3A school, and they were like one win away from going to the state championship last year and they had all their kids back,” Cooper noted of the semistate qualifier.

So, despite the 0-2 start, Cooper is not panicking in any way.

“I'm really impressed with my seniors,” he said after Thursday's game. “They're great leaders and have taken a lot of these underclassmen under their wings and are showing them the way, not only on the field but I believe off the field."

Those seniors include Molly Thomas, Layne Snyder, Shalynn Barnett and Katelyn Ramsey. 

“I thought they all did a nice job today.”

Prairie actually led on Thursday after the first inning. Cam Cornell walked, with courtesy runner Maya Rominger later scoring when Harrison's shortstop overthrew first base after a Shalynn Barnett ground ball. The Raiders tied it at 1 after two innings.

Sophomore Rebekah Stephens started and pitched the first four innings against Harrison, giving up seven earned runs. Most of that damage came in the third inning when Harrison scored five runs, including a two-run homer by Emma Henderson.

Freshman Maddie Cornell relieved in the fifth going the rest of the way, giving up seven runs (six earned) in three innings. Like Stephens, she really only had one bad inning, as the Raiders pushed seven runs across in the seventh.

Cornell also dusted herself off and finished the game after Henderson hit a hard shot off her left leg, causing a break in the action in the seventh. She was about hit again when the next batter, Abbott Badgley, lined one up the middle past Cornell's left shoulder. Two batters later Kiara Dillon hit a three-run homer for a 13-1 lead.

“We're young in the pitching, but both of them played quite a bit of travel ball so I know as the season goes on they're going to get better too,” Cooper said.

Outside the four seniors, the Gophers have a lot of underclassmen on the rest of their roster as well.

“I've got four seniors,” Cooper noted. “All four of them start, but we're young besides that. I've got one junior and the rest of them are freshmen and sophomores.”

Prairie graduated four seniors from last year's squad in Kylie Burris, Holly Loveless, Peyton Ray and Katelyn Boller. Loveless, Burris and Ray provided a lot of plate appearances for the Gophers with Loveless leading the team with a .440 batting average and Burris hitting .392 and leading the team with 24 runs scored. Still, other offensive weapons carry over from last year's squad.

“Everybody else is coming back and we brought in some freshmen that are very competitive and they play hard,” Cooper said. “I'm feeling pretty good about them so far this season.

“Last year, our top hitter was Cam Cornell, our catcher, and then Shalynn Barnett,” he noted.

Cornell hit .405 last season and led the team with two home runs and 27 RBIs. Barnett hit .325 and was tied with Cornell and two others with six doubles (just behind Burris' team-leading seven). With about 30 less at-bats, first-baseman Thomas hit .395 and was tied for second on the team with 20 RBIs.

“I know Katelyn Ramsey has struggled the last couple of years, but I think she's starting to come into her own a little bit and I think she's a pretty strong hitter,” Cooper said. “I feel comfortable with the Wilson girls (Hannah and Hadley) and Maddie Cornell, a freshman, is an excellent hitter along with Rebekah (Stephens) as well.

“We've got a good core group. It's just that it's early.”

Stephens hit .260 as a freshman with 13 RBIs, while Hannah Wilson batted .283 with 16 runs, 10 RBIs and six doubles, and Hadley hit .182 with 10 runs scored.

With Cam Cornell behind the plate, the rest of the defense features Thomas at first, Barnett at second, Hannah and Hadley (who has a Pete Rose-tendency of crowding bunters) Wilson at short and third respectively, Snyder in left, Ramsey in center and sophomore Victoria Florence in right.

Despite the 0-2 start against tough opposition, Cooper still has high hopes for the season.

“It's always nice to win the conference and do well within the county and do what we can come sectional time,” he said. “We're a 1A school and I'm hoping we battle it out with Frontier (last year's sectional champion who they lost 2-1 to in the sectional semis), but win the conference that's the biggest thing. We've been trying to stay at the top of our conference for quite a few years here.”

The Gophers next host North Montgomery at 5:30 p.m. April 3 and travel to Frontier the next evening. Other key games on the schedule include Rossville at home on April 6, the Clinton Prairie Classic on April 13, Clinton Central (away) on April 16 and the county tourney at Rossville on April 27 with sectionals beginning May 21.