PADEN CITY -- Replacing a player like Taylor Cosper, a 1st team All-State selection, who hit at a clip of .486 and was a top pitcher winning five games and throwing 56 K's while also being a finalist as OVAC player of the year, is never an easy task. Paden City Coach Chris Neff is optimistic his 2017 Wildcats will be a very competitive team.
"We lost a gem in Cosper, but we also return plenty of talent to build on," he said. "Last year we were a young team and our typical batting lineup consisted of four freshmen and three sophomores. We should be a much better hitting team and I'm already seeing results in practice. I expect us to compete well, but we have to clean up our defensive and mental mistakes. We will continue to build depth at the key positions with the goal of getting back to the OVAC tournament; something we missed last season, but had qualified well the previous three years."
Returning senior Madaline Cox, who started at 1st base as a freshman and sophomore and as catcher last year, will be a key player. Cox can play every position on the field and may be called on to do so. Last season, she had a batting average of .325, had 25 hits with eight RBI's and 18 runs scored.
Junior Aubrey Neff, a 2016 All-State Special Honorable Mention selection, is back as the top returning pitcher. She had 40 K's last season while also hitting at a .371 clip and scoring 18 runs. Neff is a versatile player who can play several positions. Short stop and third base are where she's used the most when not on the mound.
Jenna Ferrebee is another junior who plays multiple positions and can be used in the infield and outfield. Last season, Ferrebee was a .307 hitter including 21 RBI's.
Hannah Loy will be back too after missing more than two weeks of her freshman year with an injury. She can play short and third along with filling in as pitcher.
Pitching duties will be handled by Neff, Loy, Katrina Heasley and Caitlin Stewart, who missed all of 2016 after requiring knee surgery.
Catching duties will be split between Cox and junior Shelby Schultheis. Backing them up will be sophomore Madison Knight and the team's only freshman, Skylar Fulks.
Outfield will be anchored by senior Shelby Gatian. Other outfielders include Ferrebee, Ashlyn Moses, Jenna Arnett, Bre Henthorn, and first year seniors Samantha Edwards and Rachel Loy.
First base duties will be split between sophomore Delainey Lantz, Ferrebee and first year senior Kallie Arnett. Hope Cooper who also plays OF and DP will split time at 3rd base with Stewart and Neff. Heasley returns to her 2nd base position and Hannah Loy, Neff and Cox will split time at SS.
The Wildcats are coached by Neff (2nd year as head coach, 5th total) and Heather Riggle, a 2nd year assistant. Their 2016 record was 9-17 which Neff said he feels confident they will improve on. Their first game is an away contest at 12 p.m. Saturday against Morgantown Trinity Christian.