The Amherst Comets girls sluggers won their first Southwestern Conference championship since 2012 and first district crown since 1999 last season.
The team went 25-6 overall (17-1 SWC) and came up just short in a 1-0, extra inning classic against Teays Valley in the state semifinal.
Success has been mounting in fourth-year softball coach Lacey Reichert’s time with the Comets. The team went 20-5 in her first season and 19-7 in 2015.
“Last year, I think our biggest strength was senior leadership and team chemistry,” she said. “Those girls wanted to win. They wanted to win for each other. They didn’t care who got the credit or who got their name in the paper. They did it for Amherst. That’s carried over into this year, those same motivations. They know the community is supporting them.”
Gone from last year’s team are graduated seniors Ashley Cogdell and Ashlee Dahman, who hit .398 and .366 respectively. Cogdell earned an All-Ohio honorable mention and Dahman is now starting on the diamond as a freshman for the University of Connecticut. Madyson Harris and her .304 average also graduated and the Comets leading hitter, Madison Cruzado (.424), left via transfer.
“We’ve got very good pitching returning in Madison O’Berg and Madison Spataro,” said Reichert. “We did graduate three starters and we have to replace them. Everybody is replaceable. We’re confident in the young ladies who are stepping up into these roles and plan to be back at the same level we were last year.”
To say the least, O’Berg and Spataro were a pair of aces in 2016.
O’Berg went 15-5 (8-1 SWC) with a 1.21 earned run average en route to second-team All-SWC and All-Lorain County honors in 2016. She allowed just seven runs in six tournament games.
Spataro threw three no-hitters, had a 10-1 record (9-0 SWC), finished with a 1.36 ERA, and also earned second-team nods in the conference and county.
The duo also helped their own pitching causes, both hitting above .300 and combining for four home runs.
Offensively, Sarah Miller’s .419 average was second on the team as a junior in 2016 and her 45 hits set a new school record. She was named to the conference, county, and Northeast Ohio district’s first-team and received an All-Ohio honorable mention.
Junior catcher Lauren Kachure was second-team All-SWC and first-team All-Lorain County after hitting .321. As a freshman, Kasey McGraw hit .354 and was an honorable mention in the county and SWC.
Other returning letter-winners are senior Ashley Seitz as well as juniors Amanda Crisler and Kate Iliff.
“We’re not going to run into many surprises this year,” said Reichert. “Everyone knows each other very well. Our girls play against each other in travel leagues during the summer and know what to expect. We will face some tough pitching. It’s not going to be easy day to day. It will be a grind. We had to earn 17-1 and now the bullseye is on our backs. If we don’t come out to play, we’ll get beat. The SWC is too good to take nights off.”
The coach said she and players are aware of the special mix of talent coming through Amherst right now and want to continue to strike while the iron is hot.
“As a coach, you want your kids to compete at a high level every game and every day,” she said. “We know we have the talent in place. It’s just a matter now of coming out every game playing to our potential. If we do that, we have a shot to be good again. If we don’t, we’ll lose and we’ll deserve to lose. I’m confident that we have the high-character kids to come out and play hard.”
Amherst kicked off its season on the road Wednesday at North Ridgeville.
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.