An arm injury for two-time all-state pitcher Olivia Kinsey delivered potential adversity, but Park Hill South’s roster responded with guts.
The 2016 season ended with an upset loss to St. Joseph Central in a Class 4 District 16 semifinal, but the Panthers were able to play a large group of underclassmen. Only one senior returns this year, but there will be eight returning starters in the lineup.
Park Hill South went 13-13 last year.
“We were really young last year as well, and it was a deal where we had a lot of freshmen and sophomores contribute a lot,” Park Hill South coach Josh Walker said. “Hopefully, it’ll pay off because eventually it’s got to pay off when we’ve got a big group of freshmen and a big group of sophomores and a good group of juniors and one senior.”
Taylor Johnson, an outfielder, will be the only senior on Park Hill South’s roster.
However, Kate Kobayashi will be a third-year starter at shortstop for the Panthers, and fellow junior Emma Beuerlein will be back at second base. Meggen Keller, a sophomore, also earned postseason honors as an outfielder in her freshman season, and fellow sophomore Sam Ahrendt developed into a solid part of the lineup.
Kristen Clevenger, a junior, will be back behind the plate, catching for junior Gracie Dieleman and sophomore Jessie Hagen. The two pitchers were thrust into bigger roles after Kinsey ended up sidelined for the season after just a couple of weeks.
“They’re not the dominant pitcher that we’ve had, but they’ll throw strikes and they’ll keep us in the game,” Walker said. “One of the things we have to emphasize is defense and playing defense behind them and capitalizing on scoring opportunities when we get them.”
Park Hill South only lost three seniors from last year, and Kinsey didn’t play the majority of the season. Carolyn Stock (first base) and Georgia Clark (third base) were key parts of the lineup and the only senior starters at the end of the season.
Hagen will also play some first base when not pitching.
“This year is definitely different than a lot of other seasons because I’m the only senior,” Johnson said. “I have a lot of faith in my juniors to help step up and guide people.”
Prior to last season, Park Hill South appeared in three straight Class 4 District 16 title games, including a 2014 championship for the first playoff appearance in program history. The Panthers also dropped to 5-5 in Suburban Conference Red Division play, matching the up and down nature of the overall season.