CLINTON TWP. — The Lackawanna Trail softball team is just one year removed from a district championship and a trip to the state playoffs.
The return of several key contributors gives the Lady Lions hope for another winning season.
Senior pitcher Ally Decker is back for her fourth year starting in the circle.
“She was a workhorse for us last year,” said Lackawanna Trail head coach John Richter. “She definitely matured as a pitcher and her speed has picked up. She added a mile or two an hour on her fastball.”
According to Richter, Decker’s impact on the team goes beyond wins and losses.
“She leads by example every day at practice and is someone our younger team members can look up to not only on the field, but also in the classroom,” Richter said.
Junior Samantha Baltrusaitis, a second-team All-State selection as a freshman outfielder, returns for her second year at catcher.
“She’s one of our big guns offensively, and she’s really consistent behind the plate,” Richter said. “She’s not a very big girl, but she generates an enormous amount of bat speed and she’s extremely powerful.”
Richter believes Baltrusaitis’ ability to deliver in the clutch is one of her biggest assets to the team.
“You want her up when there are runners on base late in the game,” he said. “I think she makes the other team a little bit uneasy, which is a good thing for us.”
Senior Karley Cresswell returns as a starter in the outfield and is expected to play in center or left.
“As a sophomore, she was an honorable mention pick in the league,” Richter said. “Last year, she struggled a little bit at the plate but I think we figured out some things and she has been hitting pretty well.
“She’s one of our leaders and is a consistent hard worker.”
Senior Laurelann Penn, a first-team, all-league selection last season, also returns as a starter in the outfield.
“She really came into her own last year,” Richter said. “She’s a solid defensive player with a very good arm and I don’t think a lot of people realized she was as good a hitter as she is.”
Senior Allison Melnikoff, along with freshmen Leslee Kimmel and Olivia Rosengrant, are competing for playing time at the third outfield spot.
Freshman Morgan Faist is expected to start at shortstop and may serve as the team’s leadoff hitter.
“She’s a real mature kid who plays a lot of travel ball,” Richter said.
Freshman Isabella Coleman is the projected starter at third base. She will also serve as the team’s second pitcher.
“She’s an extremely skilled player with very quick reflexes,” Richter said.
Melnikoff or Rosengrant will likely start at second base.
Junior Cali Fauquier joined the team this year and is expected to start at first base.
“She’s a very good athlete and was a really nice surprise in our scrimmage,” Richter said.
Sophomores Virginia VanFleet, Jaedyn Arnold and Mackenzie Doolittle are also competing for playing time. Junior Amber Collett, who likely would have been a starter in the outfield, suffered a season-ending knee injury.
The Lady Lions finished last season with a 9-4 record in Division 4 play and lost to Riverside, 4-2, in the District 2 Class 2A quarterfinals.
Richter, who tabbed Montrose as the early favorite in the division this season, feels his team has a lot of potential.
“We’re looking to improve every day,” Richter said. “We have a lot of young, skilled players. We just need to get them to believe in themselves. Defensively, I think we’re going to be OK. We need to be able to push runs across the plate. We can’t just rely upon our top four hitters; we need people down in the order to get on base to take a little pressure off Ally.”
Reach Robert Tomkavage at 570-704-3941 or on Twitter @rtomkavage.