Lady Celts aim for conference crown

Courtney Robers takes a hack at a ball in a game last season. Roberts is expected to be the starting catcher for McNary. (File)

Last Season: 17-9, (11-5 Greater Valley Conference). Lost to Franklin in the first round of the playoffs.

The McNary softball program has been one of the most consistent teams in the valley over the last five years.

Despite losing some crucial pieces to graduation, this Celtic team still plans to regroup and reload in 2019.

“Losing the kids we did does have an impact,” McNary head coach Kevin Wise said. “But we return almost our entire infield and we have good experience in the outfield and a senior starting pitcher.”

“There’s really high expectations for this group. They were upset with going out in the first round last year against Franklin. These girls have worked really, really hard in the offseason.”

Key Losses:

Nadia Witt — McNary’s best player over the course of the last three years. Witt batted a ridiculous .602 last season with 23 extra-base hits and had 29 RBIs. She also scored 46 runs and stole 17 bases and was named the conference player of the year for the second time in as many years.

Haley Ebner — A second-team all-conference performer last season. Ebner hit .371 last season with 19 RBIs and 26 runs scored.

Emma Kinler — Posted a .369 batting average last season with 22 RBIs. Received an honorable mention nod.

Key Returners:

Taylor Ebbs (sophomore- SS): The Celtics top returning hitter. Ebbs led the team with 36 RBIs and scored 29 runs on the season while posting a .539 average. She received first-team all-league honors.

“(Ebbs) might be the best all-around athlete I’ve ever coached,” Wise said. “I’m expecting huge things from her.” “I’m going out on a limb to say that she’s probably going to contend for player of the year.”

Faith Danner (senior-P): McNary’s ace returns to the circle for one last season, hoping to build off her 16-9 record from 2018. Danner had an ERA of 3.09 over 140 innings and was second-team all-league. She also is one of McNary’s top returning bats as she hit .361 last season.

“She’s not going to be one of those pitchers that is going to strike everyone out. But she pitches really well to spots and when she’s on, she’s going to produce a lot of ground balls,” Rise said.

Haley Bingenheimer (junior-INF): As a second-team all-conference player last season, Bingenheimer was third on the team with a .414 batting average to go along with 19 RBIs.

Alexa Cepeda (junior- OF): As a sophomore, Cepeda was the team leader last season in runs scored (37) and stoled bases (25). She was named a 2018 honorable mention.

“Alexa’s one of those kids that gets on all the time,” Wise said. “And when she gets on, she’s so quick and smart and she causes a lot of havoc.”

Kate Ronning (sophomore- 3B): Also was a honorable mention performer last season. Batted .368 and had an on-base percentage of .455.

Abbi Covalt (sophomore- 2B): Batted .410 as a freshman and is McNary’s third honorable mention performer that’s returning to the team.

Another big benefit for this McNary team will be the addition of freshman pitcher Hannah Ebner.

Last season, Danner pitched in all but one game as Wise did not have much confidence in the rest of his pitching staff. However, Wise believes that he will be able to take the load off his star pitcher a little bit more this season.

“(Hannah) is a good pitcher. So now we have that backup if Faith is having a bad day or needs some rest,” Wise said. “It’s nice that we have someone else we can go to.”

With the majority of his starters returning, it’s clear that Wise believes that this group has a high ceiling.

“We want to win a conference title and make a deep run in the playoffs,” Wise said. “I think this group is going to get better as the year goes on.”