2019 season preview: Looking for fifth winning year in head coach Mike Jones' 5-years tenure, CHS diamond girls return nearly-entire starting lineup, including potent mid-lineup tandem of Abby Jones, Mika Hibner, and will go with freshman Kinlei Boley as top pitcher
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — With nearly all of its regular lineup back from an 11-9 2018 season that gave the program 4-straight winning seasons in as many years under coach Mike Jones’ leadership, another fruitful year – maybe a bountiful one – seems set to dawn today.
As the CHS diamond girls host Lawson in a 4:30 p.m. game at Daryl Danner Memorial Park’s “red” field, they do so with returning starters at every defensive spot except pitcher, where freshman Kinlei Boley projects as this fall’s primary hurler. 2018’s pitching duo of now-sophomores Mollie Ellis and Halie Rucker will provide the backups in the circle, coach Jones reports.
“I am really looking forward to seeing her throw in a game,” the coach tells the C-T of Boley.
Some of the returning starters – not all of whom started a majority of last year’s contests, but did perform regularly – will occupy different defensive posts, but back as middle-infield defensive glue are seniors Abby Smith at shortstop and Jordan Hibner at second base. They’ll also occupy significant spots in the heart of the batting order.
Returning as a starting outfielder is senior Kennedy Corzette, who slides from left to center to replace graduated Libby Adkins. Sophomore Sophia Leutticke, injured right at the end of last season, is back and fully healthy as she swap right field for left. Ellis relocates to right field.
On the infield, where an offseason injury has senior first baseman Kiley Kirkpatrick – only this week medically cleared to resume competitive activity – not available for at least a couple more weeks as she gets in the required practice/conditioning time, sophomore incumbent catcher and likely cleanup batter Mika Hibner shifts to first base and Brooke Horton – a first baseman/extra hitter last year – shifts across the diamond to third.
While Hibner plays first, junior Lexi Walker – who saw a good bit of duty as a catcher a year ago – will be Boley’s batterymate, the coach reports.
Not only is the CHS starting lineup littered with veterans, but Dawsyn Lightner, Montana Hall, and Rucker provide infield and outfield depth. Coach Jones also reports having several candidates – junior Kaylee Munson and freshmen Hope Helton and Kirsten Dunn – for courtesy/pinch-runner duties.
Offensively, A. Jones – the coach’s daughter – led last year’s team in every offensive production category except walks drawn. She ripped 39 hits for a .557 batting average while pounding three home runs, two triples, and seven doubles and driving in 24 runs and scoring 28. Hibner also went deep three times and matched A. Jones’ seven 2-baggers. They’ll likely bat 3-4 in the order with the swift Luetticke likely to succeed Adkins in the triggering leadoff spot after hitting .379 with a ,410 on-base percentage as a frosh.
“We have very good senior leadership and all of those hot bats from last year,” coach Jones says of this team’s strengths, “I need to find the best players at the right positions (in the batting order) to build team chemistry and give us our best chance to reach our team goals of winning (the Midland Empire Conference) and district (titles) and going deep into the state playoffs.”
Not that he all of the wrinkles of formulating a new team ironed out as the season arrives, noting the hitting in practice has not been what he’d hoped.
“One issue is we are not exactly playing as a team,” he notes candidly. “We need to develop some chemistry among our upperclassmen and some of the younger players, so we can be more efficient in the way that we perform.”