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Ligonier Valley softball setting out to be one of state's best teams

| Tuesday, April 2, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Bill Pribisco | for the Ligonier Echo
Ligonier softball pitcher Haley Umbaugh prepares for a return to the mound this season for the Rams during a practice session March 13, 2013, at Weller Field.

The Ligonier Valley softball team lost a wealth of talent from last season's team.

Coach Mark Zimmerman has to replace a top hitter, pitcher and first baseman.

That's, of course, the bad news.

The good news is his team also returns a wealth of talent, headlined by an all-state candidate — senior shortstop Maddy Grimm.

The Kent State recruit will anchor a team with high expectations. Grimm belted 10 home runs, recorded 31 RBI and posted a whopping .579 batting average a year ago.

“To be perfectly honest,” Zimmerman said, “I think she's one of the best, if not the best, players in the whole state this season. She's not going to sneak up on anybody. Everybody knows who she is, and she'll get a lot of attention from other teams.”

The Rams, who have won three consecutive Heritage Conference titles, have their sights set on reaching the next level.

Despite some major graduation losses, Zimmerman believes he has the right mix of players to make a deep run into the state playoffs. Five seniors and five juniors will be the core of the team, joined by three sophomores and seven freshmen.

“We definitely lost some key players,” he said. “Graduation hurt. But that's part of it. We have several girls ready to step up this year and fill some pretty big shoes from last season. With this group, as a coach, you have to be pretty optimistic. We have a solid team but you still have to go out and do the things you do best in game situations.”

Zimmerman is counting on strong seasons from senior pitcher Haley Umbaugh, as well as seniors Breanne Wallace, Jeannie Markosky and Jaclyn Berry.

“This is a nice core group of seniors,” Zimmerman said. “They all have a lot of experience on the varsity level and bring a lot of talent to the table. Haley is one we're expecting a big season of out on the pitcher's mound. She's worked very hard and it should pay off this season. I think she'll be one of the best pitchers around.”

As far as offensive production goes, it will be very important for Ligonier Valley to have numerous players step up, as teams will probably try and pitch away from Grimm.

Grimm will leave the Rams program as perhaps its most decorated all-around athlete in school history at the end of the season.

“You don't get many Maddie Grimms,” Zimmerman said. “Fortunately for me as a coach, I think I got her in her best sport. She's been solid for our program from her first practice. She does so many things so well, but I always say it's the little things that she does best. The way she runs out plays, fixes mistakes, the leadership … the hustle.”

The Rams figure to be right in the mix, if not the favorite, to win their fourth consecutive Heritage Conference title. There are, however, several teams which have improved since last season. Marion Center figures to be one of the front-runners.

“We just have to go out and do what we do,” Zimmerman said. “Our goals haven't changed. We want to win the first game. Then the first conference game and so on right down the line. Our goal is to be one of the top teams in the state.”

Brian Hunger is a freelance writer.

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