NORTH CANTON It’s an extreme rarity for a high school softball team.
Then again, the Hoover Vikings have been rare among Ohio Division I programs for a decade-plus. This season, the Vikings return all nine starters from a team that reached the Akron Division I regional final last season before falling to Walsh Jesuit.
For more programs, that would qualify as an extremely successful season and probably even exceed expectations. At Hoover, the regional run was an exciting one, but a team that has captured eight state titles, including six in its 12 seasons under head coach Jerry Goodpasture, always expects to be playing for a state championship at Firestone Stadium in early June.
Knowing that they fell just short of that mark, the Vikings enter the new season with an intact starting line determined to regain its place atop Division I.
“The seniors are our leaders and they are highly motivated to have a long tournament run. Two of our seniors were starters on the 2014 state championship team,” Goodpasture said.
Multiple members of the team made college commitments this offseason, including the linchpin for the Hoover batting attack, senior shortstop Kate Yun. Yun, an Ohio University signee, batted .506 with six home runs and 27 RBI as a junior and her glove is one of the anchors for an infield that will include three seniors this season.
Third baseman Heather Pinney (.417, 27 runs scored) and Airianna Culler (.325, 22 RBI) are also back and even the infield’s lone underclassman, sophomore Kaitlynn O’Donnell, batted .412 last season and scored 22 runs. Add in the three home runs sophomore catches Laurel DeVoe blasted last season and there should be more than enough firepower in the order.
That quartet also has the veteran coach and his assistants confident about what Hoover will be able to do when it comes to keeping opposing offenses off the scoreboard and proving a solid backing for sophomore hurler Grace Vesco, who pitched the Vikings to a 4-1 regional semifinal win over Nordonia last season and amassed a 12-8 record with a 1.80 ERA and 88 strikeouts as a freshman.
“Defense,” Goodpasture responded when asked about the team’s primary strength. “We feel that our infield and pitching should be strong this year.”
The outfield has seniors Lexi Forrest and Lauren Massolini, along with junior Grace Cea, and if that group can find ways to get on base consistently and set the table for the lineups big bats, it should bode well for the Vikings. Despite all of the talent hitters at the top of the lineup, Goodpasture believes the success of the seventh, eighth and ninth hitters in the lineup will factor heavily into his team's success this season.
“We need to have more hitting from the bottom of our lineup and be more aggressive running the bases,” Goodpasture said of what it will take to qualify for the state tournament this season.
However, the veteran coach also knows that right now, the postseason may as well be light years away because Hoover must first tackle its non-league schedule and after that, the Vikings will take on a Federal League once again determined to break their iron grip on the league’s top spot.
“Before we can think about tournament play, we must focus on league play, which is going to be very challenging,” Goodpasture season. “With the Federal League being one of the most competitive in the state, a team must bring its best effort to every game.”
Further underscoring the importance of playing well against the league, virtually the entire league is slotted in the same postseason district, so there’s a chance Hoover could see some of its rivals as many as three times this spring. But there’s nothing more they want to see than another state championship trophy in their hands, glistening in the June sun in Akron.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
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