EUREKA – Over the past two seasons, Eureka has graduated all nine starters, a core group that helped the program win three consecutive regional championships, appear in a pair of sectional finals and record a single season record 29 victories in 2017.
Five four-year starters graduated in ’17 and four more followed suit in ’18 in Quincy Boschulte, Tessa Leman, Maddie McCunn and Parker Williams.
“It’s a different approach,” explained Hornets’ coach John Stromberger. “I have to take a different approach than the last few years. The last few years have been amazing. They set a new standard for Eureka softball. These girls want to accomplish something for the first time. We’re learning and having a good time.”
Leman (.486 average) and McCunn were both two-time first team Heart of Illinois Conference selections, while Boschulte (6-5 record, 1.46 earned run average, 68 strikeouts in 76.7 innings) and Williams (5-6) split up the pitching. The Hornets finished with a 12-11 record in 2018, as they were blanked 1-0 by Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley at the El Paso-Gridley Regional. Among the returnees is senior Morgan Greene (third base), who hit .338 and drove in 17 runs, as did senior designated hitter Marah Miller. Eureka scored 123 runs in 2018 (5.3 per game) and hit for a .285 team average.
“We have some girls who know how to make contact,” said Stromberger, who enters his 15th season with a 235-194-1 record. “If we make contact that gives us the best chance. We’ve been working a lot on contact and a short, quick swing, putting the ball in play and making the defense work.”
Also back is senior outfielder Alison Nohl, junior shortstop Savannah Hack and sophomore catcher Jayci Swords.
Meanwhile, the pitching will be turned over to sophomore Hannah Martin, whose lone decision was a 12-2 five-inning win in the second game of doubleheader at Spring Valley Hall.
“Hannah has been working really hard,” pointed out Stromberger. “She’s a competitor. She’s one of the leaders. She’s better than what she was last year.”
With Greene and Hack, the Hornets’ strength on defense appears to be on the infield.
“I would say so,” Stromberger said. “We have athletes on the infield. We have some quickness on the infield. The infield is what most of what we have returning.”
Fisher (22-8, 11-0) is the reigning HOIC champion and could be poised to repeat.
“Fisher has to be considered a favorite because they have their pitcher back. GCMS (Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley) is up there because they have their pitcher back. Conference is going to be tough.”
Stromberger also listed Le Roy and Tremont has other contenders.
The Hornets finished in a tie for fifth in the league with Tri-Valley.
“If we are up there with those other teams, I would consider our season a success,” said Stromberger. “It’ll be interesting to see how our (first-year players) do when they face these experienced pitchers. They’re jumping right in not having played ball in a year and a half.”
Eureka has a total of 13 girls on the varsity roster. Today's opener with guest Midwest Central has been cancelled. The remainder of the schedule is as follows (all games will start @ 4:30 unless indicated & all home dates @ the middle school):
Tuesday: @ Brimfield/Elmwood
Thursday: @ Henry
March 18: versus Metamora
March 19: @ Midland
March 22: @ Flanagan-Cornell-Woodland
March 23: vs. Delavan (doubleheader), 10 a.m.
March 27: @ Farmington
March 29: @ Princeville
March 30: 11:30 a.m. vs. Prairie Central & 1:30 p.m. vs. Streator both @ Streator
April 1: @ Heyworth*
April 3: vs. Fieldcrest* @ Minonk’s Veteran’s Park
April 5: vs. U-High @ Normal’s Fairview Park
April 8: vs. T-V*
April 9: @ Olympia
April 13: vs. Putnam County (DH), 10 a.m.
April 15: vs. Deer Creek-Mackinaw*
April 17: vs. GCMS*
April 19: vs. EP-G*
April 20: vs. SVH (DH), 10 a.m.
April 22: @ Fisher*
April 24: @ Tremont*
April 26: Le Roy*
April 29: vs. Lexington/Ridgeview*
May 1: vs. Lowpoint-Washburn/Roanoke-Benson
May 6: vs. Central Catholic
May 9: vs. Illinois Valley Central @ Chillicothe
May 11: HOIC Showcase, opponent, location & time to be determined
May 13-18: Regional
Notes: Stromberger plans on starting a trio of first-year players in Madisyn Hack, Ashley Nohl and Delaney Phillips. A 15-run mercy rule will go into effect this season where if the home team is ahead by at least that amount after conclusion of top of the fourth inning or the visiting team has that lopsided of an advantage after the end of the bottom half, the game would be over. Central Catholic, Henry, Metamora and U-H are new to the schedule, while Canton, Illini Bluffs and Peoria Christian are off. With Blue Ridge’s departure to the Little Okaw Valley Conference, HOIC squads will play 10 league games rather than 11. Le Roy (21) was the only other HOIC team to exceed 20 victories last spring. Leman is a walk-on at Army. She has played in five of the 15 games with two runs scored and a stolen base.