IR softball ready to take swing at return to state tournament

Coastal Point • Tripp Colonell: The Indian River High School softball team, minus senior shortstop Madi McGee.Coastal Point • Tripp Colonell: The Indian River High School softball team, minus senior shortstop Madi McGee.It’s a particularly special season for head coach Erika Murphy and the Indian River High School softball team.

After she took over as head coach for the Indians in 2014, along with assistant coaches Abi Givens and Catherine Bennett, this year’s senior class will be the first that the coaching trio has seen all the way through from their days as freshmen.

After back-to-back 9-9 seasons, 2014 was also the last time that the Indians made it to the playoffs — a feat that now-seasoned seniors including Mackenzie Collins, Madi McGee and Sami Mumford aim to accomplish once again before closing out the final chapters of their careers.

“The seniors this year are good role models, on the field and off the field. They’re players that the girls looked up to. That’s what we’re looking for in role models — to help develop that team chemistry,” said Murphy. “There’s just a good feeling this year. The girls really want it, and they’ve been working hard from Day 1.”

“We have a lot of potential, so we need to make sure everyone is living up to it,” added McGee.

McGee returns to shortstop this season, where she’s held down the starting role since her sophomore season, after starting at first base and warranting an All-Conference selection as a freshman.

Collins will return to second base, while Mumford will be back at first, coming off back-to-back All-Conference selections as a sophomore and junior.

All three seniors will be continuing their softball careers at the collegiate levels next year.

“We have to step it up and be leaders this year,” said Mumford. “This year, we don’t really have captains. We all lead together.”

Returning to centerfield for the Indians this year will be junior Julia Bomhardt, who earned both an All-Conference and All-State selection in 2016. Junior Damya Williams will join her out by the warning track after an All-Conference selection as a utility player last season, helping fill the void left by graduating Blue-Gold All-Star selections Callie McDowell and Ky’Lesha Neal.

Behind the plate, sophomore Grace Snyder will mask-up once again, after starting every game at catcher as a freshman in 2016.

“Grace has really grown up since last year,” said Brittingham. “Being a freshman catcher starting on varsity is tough, and it’s a tough position to get used to, but she’s really worked hard over the off-season and has really improved. We’re hoping she does big things for us this year.”

Taking the circle opposite Snyder, the Indians return their entire bullpen from 2016, with junior pitcher Marley Evans and sophomore pitchers Abi O’Shields and Nicole Patille all winding up for breakout seasons.

“The pitchers are stronger, faster, more experienced, and their movement has gotten much better,” said Snyder of the rotation. “I think we’re going to have a lot of batters swinging and missing.”

“Three returning pitchers this year — we’re happy about that. Having three pitchers is a blessing,” added Murphy. “Every team wants to have depth in the circle, and we’re lucky enough to have that so, hopefully, they keep up the hard work and perform at the level we know they’re capable of.”

Other key returners for the Indians include junior 3B Braydee Whitman, sophomore 1B/UT Samantha Mayfield and catcher Kathryn Collins.

They’ll be joined by a large freshman class rounding out the junior varsity, with freshmen including Morgan Bomhardt and Lauren Holliday expected to see some action on varsity as well. No matter how the lineup ends up on opening day, however, building the team from the ground up has been the focus for Murphy and the coaching staff since Day 1.

“Fourth year, we’re building the J.V. slowly but surely. We have a great coach with Angie [Corrado] down there,” said Murphy. “In general, we have some talented freshmen this year. We have some on varsity and some on J.V., and we’re expecting them to contribute regardless of which team they’re on.”

In addition to added depth this season, the coaching staff will also see some added numbers, with Sara Powell joining the squad as an assistant coach. Powell graduated from Indian River in 2008 and earned All-Conference selections playing both third base and catcher for the Indians, as well as an All-State selection during her senior season behind the plate.

Following their usual “one game at a time” mentality, the team won’t mention their aims this season specifically, but making a run at the state title is always the ultimate goal.

“We can’t say them,” said McGee with a laugh, of the team’s aspirations.

“There’s always hopes,” added Murphy. “We always want to make it to the playoffs, but we’re still just going to take it one game at a time.”

The Indians were set to start their season with a home game against Smyrna on Wednesday, March 22, followed by away games against Polytech on March 24 and Seaford on March 30. They’ll return home on Saturday, April 1, hosting St. Mark’s at 1 p.m.