By Chris Chaney
The Clermont Northeastern Lady Rockets will have a whole new look when they take the field on April 2 against Williamsburg to open their 2014 campaign.
One of the most successful runs that the Southern Buckeye Conference and Southwest Ohio district has seen in recent years came to an end last season with seven members of the Lady Rockets’ softball team graduating and moving on. Pieces remain left over from the CNE team that reached the state quarterfinals a year ago, but head coach Bill Goldfuss said that there would be a learning curve entering the season.
“We’ll obviously be a little young, losing seven seniors,” he said. “It’s not a total rebuild — we have four starters back from last year’s team — but we will have a few new players, including a freshman pitcher.
“We’re still in the process of evaluating everybody and figuring out who fits in where, but I think we’ll be better at the end (of the season) than we will at the beginning just because of the young players we have. By the end, we’ve got a chance to be pretty good.”
Leading the charge this season will be two-time First Team All-SBC catcher and first baseman Allison Gilkerson. Goldfuss said that the Lady Rockets will need her power and production to continue from last season when she batted .478, knocked in 42 RBI and belted four home runs.
“Our catcher, Gilkerson, we expect her to keep producing like she has in the past,” Goldfuss said. “We’re going to have to use a collection (of talent) to get production because we lost a ton of production from last year with (McKena) Miller, (Chelsae) Osborn, (Emily) Anderson and (Raelyn) Reynolds, so we’re going to have to get contributions up and down the lineup.”
The coach also pointed to a pair of infielders that saw a lot of playing time last season besides Gilkerson who he’s expecting to help lead the team.
“Rachel Ward will probably become our leadoff hitter,” he said. “Lindsey Wright, who played third base last year as a freshman, we expect more out of her.”
Having won their division each of the last four years — the American from 2010-2012 and the National last season — Goldfuss believes that even with his young team, that come season’s end, the Lady Rockets should be fighting for that top spot once again.
“I think the league’s probably going to be pretty tight and pretty competitive from top to bottom,” he said. “Williamsburg should be better, Georgetown will be better, Blanchester is always decent, so it’s going to be a dog fight until the end. I don’t think anyone will pack it up and run away with it like in the last four years. I think it’ll be competitive and I think we have a chance.
“Now, whether or not we can get there or not is a different story, but I think we have a chance if some of our younger players produce. It depends on our pitching, too. We have a young, freshman pitcher (Morgan Schweiger) and again, I think she’ll be better at the end than she is at the beginning. We get thrown right away into these league games, so we’re going to know within the first week, right away how we stack up against everybody.”
Goldfuss was referring to the first seven games of the season in which the Lady Rockets will see all five of their divisional opponents before April 11. The dog-eat-dog start will give CNE and the rest of the league an idea of what they’re up against. And as Goldfuss would point out, who they’re not up against.
“I told the girls that everyone’s going to be coming after you now with the horses gone,” he said of the bullseye on the back of their blue and gold jerseys, “but I think we’ll be okay.”
The Lady Rockets will host Williamsburg at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 2.