SOFTBALL: Falcons hope to bounce back with youth movement

By Jonathan Delozier -

After going 17-11 in coach Tim Phillips’ first season as coach, the Firelands Falcons softball team slipped to 11-15 (7-9 PAC) in 2016.

The team welcomes back five letter winners: seniors Hailey Blankenship, Zoe Simmons, and Olivia Harris as well as juniors Madison Palmer and Hannah Reynolds.

Nearly half of Phillips’ roster, though, is made up of freshmen, which he said is one of the most talented groups he’s seen come to Firelands in his time at the school.

“Five of the seven incoming freshman play travel ball,” he said. “That’s tournament teams, not just local OGSO or rec ones. With more experience, it crosses over into their play here. That’s not to say it will be a cure-all, but it will certainly help out.”

Firelands will have to get by after losing Samantha Hribal, Alex Willis, and Claire Vilagi to graduation. Hribal registered a 2.77 earned run average, struck out 121 batters, and hit .321 in 2016.

“We needed more consistent hitting last year,” said Phillips. “It seemed like we only had one or two girls hitting in a game at the same time. I know every girl isn’t going to hit every single game, but you aim for about four or five every game. Pitching was good last year and served us well.”

The Falcons last won a district championship in 2013, the same season they last defeated Patriot Athletic Conference juggernaut Keystone. In 2015, they fell to the Wildcats in the district semifinal.

“Black River was pretty good last year and should be again this year,” said the coach. “Wellington makes their presence felt and Buckeye is always tough. We have to see how we come out of the gate with how the weather’s been. We’ve had to scrimmage indoors a lot, so it’s been difficult to judge how we’re looking.”

Rain cancelled the team’s opener March 27 against Bay, which turned the March 30 home matchup with Fairview into the first test for this year’s squad.

“We’ll get out there for that first game and see where we are,” Phillips said. “These girls know what’s expected of them and they’ve put in work to make it a reality.”

Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.

By Jonathan Delozier