Lebanon’s Grace Gressly connects for an RBI against Mason during a Division I regional softball final at Kings on May 28, 2017. Lebanon won 7-3. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY E.L. HUBBARD

Prep softball preview: Returning nucleus has Lebanon setting high bar

LEBANON — The Lebanon High School softball program is at a level where the Warriors can contemplate almost annually what they need to do to win a Division I state championship.

“Our motivating factor every year is trying to get to Akron and playing in the state final four and winning that last game,” Lebanon coach Brian Kindell said. “We’ve been on that doorstep many times, and we’re looking for a way to kick that door down.”

The Warriors have reached the state semifinals four times in the last seven seasons and played twice for the state championship. Last season, the Warriors fell a step short of going upstate, losing to Lakota West 5-0 in the regional final.

Two All-Greater Western Ohio Conference selections — outfielder Madison DeGennaro and catcher Molly Osborne — and All-National Division pick Madison Hartman graduated from the team that went 26-4 overall and 11-0 to win the National West by three games, but Kindell still has plenty of returning talent.

Senior pitcher Kat Frank was an All-GWOC pick and the National West Player of the Year after piling up 25 wins and 175 strikeouts, both tops in the entire conference, while logging a 1.46 earned run average.

Senior shortstop Ashley West returns for her fourth season as a starter after being named all-conference last season, while all-division pick Grace Gressly moves to catcher after hitting eight home runs and driving in 42 runs last season, tying for second in the conference in both categories.

“Obviously, it starts with pitching and catching,” Kindell said. “Grace and Kat are two returning players who’ve had nice careers at Lebanon.”

Junior outfielder Logan Mueller, another All-GWOC pick as a left fielder last season, will replace DeGennaro in center field. Mueller, Lebanon’s leadoff hitter, led the Warriors with 44 hits, 36 runs and 26 stolen bases last season. Kindell expects senior Emma Ball to take over in left field. He also anticipates getting help from imports from Lebanon’s junior varsity team.

“As a coach, you worry about everything, I guess,” he said, adding his biggest concern is finding the right mix defensively and offensively. “You know how the lineup needs to shake out and the defense needs to shake out. We lost three talented starters, but we have plenty of talent on the team to get those roles filled. It’s up to us as coaches to figure out how to use the talent we have and put those kids and the team in position to be successful. Our biggest challenge is putting the puzzle together.”

Lebanon, which has won six of the last seven division championships outright and shared the seventh, opens the season at home against Milford on Wednesday.

“The GWOC is wide open,” Kindell said. “Miamisburg had a large senior class that graduated, but last year, the middle of that team had some nice young players. Northmont is always extremely tough. Coach Kris Mangen has one of most consistent programs in Southwest Ohio and definitely the GWOC. Springboro had a wealth of young talented players on their roster. The race for that National League West crown is wide open.”