JOHANNESBURG — Coach Mark Peppin is taking this year’s expectations for the Johannesburg-Lewiston softball team seriously.
When asked what the goals for this season’s squad were, Peppin responded by simply stating, “District championship.” Somewhere around May 28, depending on how the Division 4 pre-district draw goes, the Lady Cardinals will begin their quest for that goal. They may have the opportunity to exact revenge for last season’s early dismissal from the playoffs at the hands of Posen in a 12-0 mercy. The Vikings continued on to take the District trophy.
This season, Peppin hopes that a couple of additions and a solid core of returning veterans will translate into more runs. Depth at the mound was added in the off season with sophomore transfer Allison Ellis, who has a strong arm and comes in as a solid No. 2 pitcher.
“She is a nice addition to be able to have because not only will she be able to throw this year, but she will be around for two more years for us,” Peppin said. “Abby (Schlicher) will be at short when she is not pitching. It’s going to make our infield very tough to get through.”
Schlicher was responsible for pitching in all of the team’s 15 victories last season and recorded 100 strikeouts, in addition to a team-leading .485 batting average and area-leading 34 RBI's.
Suffice to say, Schlicher is one of the captains of the team, along with senior Katie Kierczynski and junior Sydney McKenney. “It’s a key for us to have Sydney in the outfield,” Peppin said. “She runs the show out there and, in my opinion, is one of the best, if not the best outfielder in our conference.”
“Same thing with the infield and Abby. She controls the game, pitch-by-pitch, whether she is pitching or at shortstop. Behind the plate (at catcher), Katie is our eyes on the field.”
The other senior on the squad is first baseman Hannah Huff, who will attempt to replace one of a small amount of assets missing from last season’s team — Samantha Banaszak, who recorded 203 putouts on the way to a Herald Times All-Area season as a senior.
“She will be a big hole to fill,” Peppin said. “Hannah and Emily Aisthorpe will share duties.”
Other additions to the team include junior Julia Nieman, who has had a good spring in her first varsity campaign, and sophomore Haylie Haase.
“Haylie has looked very good and has worked herself into a playing position,” Peppin said.
Key returning players include Erin Kortman, Miranda Kortman and Gracie Kierczynski.
Although the preseason has been a wet one in Otsego County and it has been a slow start to the season, Peppin takes responsibility for the outlook this year and is pleased with how his team has responded.
“This is my fourth year as coach,” he said. “These seniors have been in the system for four years, and it’s kind of my responsibility that they play at that high level. I think we can play anyone in the Ski Valley Conference, even Onaway.”