Prep softball preview: Veteran CCS squad looks to make more MVC noise

Cincinnati Christian’s Briahna Bush sends a pitch toward the plate during Sunday afternoon’s Division IV district final against Bradford at Mason. RICK CASSANO/STAFF

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Cincinnati Christian’s Briahna Bush sends a pitch toward the plate during Sunday afternoon’s Division IV district final against Bradford at Mason. RICK CASSANO/STAFF

FAIRFIELD TWP. — The Cincinnati Christian Cougars are scheduled to open the 2019 prep softball season with four consecutive road games, but with 10 players — including eight starters — returning from 2017’s 15-5 team, they probably have enough experience to handle the challenge.

“We only lost one player from last year’s team to graduation and have added a couple of talented freshmen, so we have basically the same team from last year, but with an added year’s experience and they’ve spent preseason with an eye on postseason play from last year and working on those areas of our game that would allow us to go further in district play this year,” CCS coach Gary Rice said.

In other words, the Cougars are motivated by losing 2-1 in eight innings in a Division IV district final to a Bradford team that went on to reach the state semifinals, where it lost to eventual state champion Jeromesville Hillsdale.

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They also are brimming with the confidence of returning experienced talent led by senior Jenna Monk, named the Miami Valley Conference Scarlet Division Athlete of the Year last season after hitting .565 with 39 runs batted in and a division-high 13 home runs as Cincinnati Christian’s center fielder.

Monk, who has signed with the University of South Florida, is moving to shortstop to replace the graduated Kayla Stacy, a second-team all-division pick last season.

Monk also is the Cougars’ backup pitcher behind sophomore Briahna Bush, another first-team all-division pick after leading the Scarlet with 15 wins, finishing second with 216 strikeouts and third with a 0.61 earne -run average. The right-hander also hit .576.

Junior catcher Ashley Veldkamp, described by Rice as a “great communicator” with “great field awareness,” also was a 2018 second-team pick, as was senior third baseman Merrick Heid, a “great leader” and “consistent batter,” Rice said.

Two sophomores, second baseman-catcher Karli Head and first baseman Miranda Heid, return after earning all-division honorable mention last season.

One problem for Rice is finding a center fielder to replace Monk. One possibility is freshman Kirsten Clark. Rice also anticipates that freshman Elizabeth Bowling will contribute.

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“They have made tremendous progress in preseason practice,” he said. “We expect them to be able to sub in and play right away.

“We have excellent pitching and a good core of strong, consistent hitters, many who have spent the offseason refining their skills,” he added. “We have a strong infield.”

Cincinnati Christian, which went 11-2 in the MVC to tie Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy for the 2018 Scarlet championship and swept the Eagles in the regular season by scores of 10-0 and 9-2, opened this season with an 11-1 loss to Wilmington on Saturday.

The Cougars will travel to Taylor on Monday.

“We have increased the number of games in our schedule, starting with scrimmages against Division II Bishop Fenwick and Division III Madeira,” Rice pointed out.

This is Rice’s second stint as the CCS head coach. He also held the position from 2001-06.

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