By Chris Chaney
The Milford Lady Eagles softball team got off to a quick start to begin their 2013 campaign, winning seven of their first 10 games to place themselves near the top of the Eastern Cincinnati Conference standings in the league’s inaugural season.
Despite the new name and logo, the ECC features many of the teams that Milford is familiar with and this season, head coach Christy Gregory is putting an emphasis on capitalizing in scoring situations in order to give the Lady Eagles a shot at the ECC crown.
“The plan was to increase our offensive game,” Gregory said of the early season. “We were telling the girls to be productive; take advantage of walks, when there are runners in scoring position, whenever we can do not to leave runners on.”
A large part of Milford’s success in the early going is that the team has done just as Coach Gregory has instructed. The Lady Eagles boast eight players batting over .300 through the first 10 games, far and away the most potent offense in the league.
The Lady Eagles have crossed the plate 28 more times than their nearest competitor.
Leading that charge is Kayla Gregory, a junior leadoff hitter. She is leading the ECC with a .586 batting average and ranks second in runs batted in with 11.
What that tells Coach Gregory is that everyone in the Milford lineup is producing. For the leadoff hitter to be knocking in runs, that means batters from the bottom of the lineup need to be getting on base ahead of her.
Aside from Kayla Gregory, Katie Ackerman and Carly Ventus are also having an exceptionally productive first month of the season, both batting over .400.
Ventus, a senior outfielder, is hitting the cover off the ball, leading the city in homeruns with three, including two in league games, which is tops in the ECC. Ventus also has 10 RBI, second only to Gregory on the team.
Ackerman, a senior catcher, is more of a contact hitter, getting on base 50-percent of the time and hitting .409. The productivity that Coach Gregory preached at the beginning of the season hasn’t been more evident than in Ackerman who has scored nine of the 11 times she has been on base.
Hannah Huffer, Olivia Brewer, Kelly Noll, Shelby Kirk and Hannah Wolbers are also seeing the ball well as each of them are hitting over .300 as well.
In the circle, the Lady Eagles are running out senior Katie Noll.
“She’s thrown really well for us,” Coach Gregory said. “She’s moving the ball around and doing a good job.”
Noll is 5-1 on the season, with 35 strikeouts and a 1.80 earned run average. Also impressive is Noll’s WHIP, which tallies her walks plus hits per inning pitched, at .80, meaning less than one batter per inning is reaching base any way other than by a fielding error.
In the ECC, the top of the standings is cluttered with stellar softball teams. Coach Gregory believes that there are no off days in the ECC, which will help her squad as they move through the regular season and into the postseason.
“The league is tough,” she said. “There’s a bunch of us that are going to fight for the league and that makes it interesting every day. I don’t think there is any dominant team and there’s a bunch of us in the mix to win it.
“It’s not a new league, we’re used to these teams and every year, the competition is greater between the top four of us.”
The daily grind of the ECC can only help the Lady Eagles as they prepare to improve their stead in the statewide view of high school softball. As a result, Coach Gregory has high expectations for Milford’s postseason chances.
“From here on, we start the true test of our schedule,” the coach said. “We have a strong nonleague schedule. We’re going to Lexington next week and we’re playing as many strong nonleague teams as we can to prepare as well.
“As for our goals, we definitely want to win sectionals and move on.”
That quest to win sectionals if off to a solid start and as the coach referenced, the schedule only going to get tougher. The Lady Eagles will face Union County (Ky.) and Henderson County (Ky.) on April 20 before returning home to play a pair of conference games early the following week.