Three Rivers, Centreville softball teams thriving on play of youngsters
THREE RIVERS —Two area high school softball teams are prospering with rosters dominated by underclassmen.
Three Rivers and Centreville are both enjoying banner seasons after enduring a losing campaign a year ago.
Both the Lady Cats and Lady Bulldogs, along with Constantine are looking to keep that momentum going into the postseason, which begins this weekend with the St. Joseph County Tournament, and continues with state tournament play next week at the district level.
Three Rivers brings a 23-11 overall record into the Division 2 district, a tournament the Lady Cats themselves will host. Kendra Kutz’s Lady Cats, who finished 17-18 in 2016, went 11-7 in the Wolverine Conference, good enough for fourth. It has been a complete turnaround for Three Rivers, which went 7-11 in the conference, finishing in fifth place last spring.
The amazing part of it all is that Kutz’s ball club has done it with just two seniors Tiana Sternbergh and Libby Judsen on its 12-player roster. The Lady Cats’ lineup includes three freshmen and a trio of sophomores.
“The strength of this team has been our team chemistry. They all play really well together and never drop their heads when we are down, and they fight all the way to the end. Our defense has been pretty solid for the most part, and our offense is very explosive when everyone is hitting,” said Kutz, who was a standout player on the 2005 Three Rivers team that won the school’s only district softball title under Frelen Gowen.
Freshman Kylee Nash is Three Rivers’ No. 1 pitcher and sports a win-loss mark of 16-7, with 168 strikeouts, 35 walks, five hit batsmen and an earned-run average of 1.923 in 25 games.
Sophomore Jessica Barnes has taken the mound 12 times with a 4-2 mark. Barnes has 37 strikeouts, 22 walks and hit two batters for an ERA of 4.455.
Junior Amy Jo Tavernier has pitched four games with a record of 2-0.
“Our pitching has been at its best this year. All three pitchers (Kylee, Jessica and Amy Jo) have contributed on the mound. Jessica and Kylee both put a lot of work into pitching in the offseason and it shows. We are very lucky to have them,” Kutz said.
Freshman infielder and lead-off hitter Karalyn Eldridge led Three Rivers entering Thursday’s games with Coldwater with a .437 average and a .487 on-base percentage. Eldridge has only struck out six times in 118 appearances at the plate with 45 hits, 29 singles, 13 doubles, two triples and one home run. She also has nine stolen bases and 30 RBI.
The No. 2 spot in the order has been held down by freshman outfielder Emma Thatcher, who is hitting .386 with a .398 on-base percentage. Thatcher has struck out just 11 times with 30 hits in 91 official at bats, including 27 singles, two doubles, one triple and 15 RBI.
“Emma is a triple-threat at the plate. She has the capability to bunt, slap and hit for power. She is a perfectionist and it sometimes causes her to be too hard on herself. She has been pretty consistent at the plate and was a huge factor in some of our wins,” Kutz said.
Junior Halle Carpenter bats in the No. 3 spot, where she sports a .394 average, a .441 on-base percentage, 43 hits, including 31 singles, nine doubles, two triples, and one home run with 34 RBI. She has only struck four times in 118 plate appearances.
“Halle has made a complete 360 degree turn from last season. She worked real hard in the off-season and has come a long way. She is a solid hitter and leader on the field,” Kutz said.
Barnes is batting .417 in the clean-up spot, with an on-base percentage of .453, 45 hits, including 32 singles, eight doubles, two triples, three home runs and 31 RBI. She has struck out just nine times in 117 appearances at the plate.
“Jessica had a few games where she struggled, but found a way to adjust. I really enjoy watching her play. She is athletic and can play any spot you put her in. She’s very competitive and gives 100 percent all of the time,” Kutz said.
Nash occupies the No. 5 spot where she is hitting .423, has a .463 on-base percentage, 41 hits, including 20 singles, 13 doubles, two triples, six home runs and 46 RBI. She has only struck out 12 times in 109 plate appearances.
“Kylee has struggled a few games with strikeouts, but has redeemed herself very well. The power she has in her swing is unbelievable. When she makes contact you better be ready,” Kutz said.
Tavernier, a junior who also plays some infield, is batting .386, with an on-base percentage of .472. She has 22 hits, including 17 singles, five doubles, 11 RBI and six stolen bases.
“Amy Jo was up and down for a while at the plate. She is very hard on herself because she is very competitive and that can get the best of her sometimes. I know what she is capable of and I am hard on her because of it. She has bounced back and is hitting much better now,” Kutz said.
Hawkins, a junior who splits her time between infield and the outfield, is batting .320, with an on-base percentage of. 327. She has 31 hits, including 26 singles, five doubles with 13 RBI and eight stolen bases. She has struckout just five times.
“Tessa has come a long way from last year. Her confidence is up and she has raised her batting average tremendously. She hits the ball solid and lays down key bunts when teams aren’t expecting it,” Kutz said.
“We have a young team and they have adapted well to one another well on the field. At the beginning of the season, I told them in order to play well as a team on defense we have to trust one another. We have had some games where we made too many mental errors cost us a lot of rums. Our batting lineup has been up and down this season. When we are on we are on, and when we are off we are really off. For the most part we’ve out hit almost every team we’ve faced. We just fell short in a few of those games.”
Three Rivers owns a 11-3 win over Constantine (29-4) who was unbeaten when the two schools met in the championship game of the Wildcats’ Invitational. It’s possible the two could meet again this weekend in the finals of the county tournament in Centreville.
The season has been conflict free for the Lady Cats.
Please see Friday's Commercial-News print or e-edition for the full article.