By GREG MENGELT
FLOYDS KNOBS —
In 10 years at Floyd Central, Joe Witten helped lead the Highlanders to five sectional titles and the school’s only regional crown in 2009.
In his final year, Witten’s squad went 27-5 and ended a two-year sectional drought when it beat Bedford North Lawrence 3-2 in eight innings in the Class 4A Bedford Sectional final.
Now it’s Scott Castleberry’s turn.
Castleberry took over for Witten this summer and inherited a talented bunch. Six starters return, including the Highlanders’ top two pitchers, along with a talented bunch of newcomers in the Knobs.
“We have a very solid team and have very high expectations this year,” Castleberry said. “We have six returning starters from last year’s team, and all six of them are very talented. They are developing into a strong team of leaders.”
The Highlanders are off to a 6-0 start after Thursday’s game with Columbus East under their new leader in 2013.
“If the players continue to gel as a team, bring positive energy every day and fight to win every pitch, it will be a strong year for FCHS softball,” Castleberry said. “As a coach, my expectations are pretty simple: Work hard preparing to play, and when it’s game time, go out and have fun playing the game as a team; Respect every opponent and take the season game-by-game.”
Jeffersonville returns seven starters, including Harding University commit Marley Edwards and future Southern University player Kayleigh Thomas, from a team that went 19-7 a year ago.
With strong senior and junior classes, the Red Devils hope to challenge for their first sectional crown since 1997.
“We expect to compete for both the Hoosier Hills Conference and our sectional,” second-year Jeff coach Jodi Bradley said. “We have a few new young players who will help fuel our success and key upperclassmen who will be our foundation for success.”
While New Albany may be a team of the future, a strong sophomore class should help the Bulldogs improve from last year’s 16-12 campaign.
Despite losing four key players from a team that fell to Bedford in the opening round of last year’s sectional, New Albany coach Steve Belden is high on his squad.
Seniors Sidney Rudy and Brittany Jones will lead a team that will feature at least five sophomores and three freshmen.
“Although we will be a young team, the talent level is very good,” Belden said. “The key to our season will come from the continuing development of our team unity. We will grow from each game and from the players’ understanding their roles.”
Although Floyd is the favorite and Jeff, Jennings County and Bedford all figure to be contenders again, Belden also believes his team can win the HHC and its first sectional title since 2004.
“Our goals are to be very competitive against the quality teams on our schedule, so that we can compete for both the conference and sectional championships,” Belden said.
Providence won its second sectional title ever a year ago, and although it has some youth and inexperience after the loss of five seniors, the Pioneers have an excellent shot at winning back-to-back sectional crowns for the first time in school history.
Talented freshman and sophomore classes also should mean a bright future at Providence.
“We expect to be a very strong team from top-to-bottom,” Providence coach Sean Payne said. “We are continuously having position battles, which makes each player better. We expect to compete very well in the postseason.”
After dominating its Class A sectional from 2007-2010, Henryville hasn’t had much luck since moving up to 2A last season.
With several juniors, sophomores and freshmen joining seniors Miranda Hopper and Sydney Hollingsworth in the Hornets’ lineup, Henryville could regain its championship form in the next couple of years.
For now, coach Jenny Schroeder hopes her team reaches its potential by the end of the regular season.
“We are very young this year and very inexperienced,” Schroeder said. “I’m expecting a few girls to step up and lead this year, and I hope we’ll be competitive in our sectional. I’m hoping for vast improvements by season’s end.”
Charlestown and Silver Creek hope to be challenging for a championship in a strong Class 3A sectional that also features strong teams in Corydon Central, Salem, Brownstown Central and defending sectional champion North Harrison.
Defending Class A sectional champion New Washington is probably the co-favorite in its Class A sectional with Lanesville. Pitcher Whitney Morris likely gives the Mustangs an edge after helping New Wash to a 1-0 nine-inning victory over the Eagles in last year’s sectional title game.