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Who to know and storylines: Guide to 2023 high school softball season

High school softball is underway across Central Indiana. Here are a few things to know as teams navigate the first few weeks of the season.

Alex Cooper playing the field

Alex Cooper went 27-5 with a 2.35 ERA and 260 strikeouts over her two seasons in the circle for Mooresville, but the IU commit won't step into the circle this season due a stress fracture in her lower back. Cooper, who was recruited to IU as a shortstop, suffered the injury her sophomore season, she said, and believes it resulted from how she was finishing her pitches (the momentum of trying to stop at the end of her delivery created stress for that area of her back).

Cooper tried pitching the final inning of a game during the offseason and it was not a very pleasant experience. "It was horrible," she said. "It was very painful." This all makes what Cooper did last season — 11-2, 2.27 ERA and 110 strikeouts over 86.1 innings — even more impressive.

"I pitched for a long time, so it's kind of sad to give it up," said Cooper, who feels fine hitting and fielding. "It's like, I could be helping my team right now (as a pitcher), but for my body, it was the best decision I could make."

The Pioneers have a quartet of pitchers, with senior Liv Morris and sophomore Reagan Bauer joining senior Josi Hair (12-2, 2.45 ERA, 63 Ks) and junior Zoey Kugelman (5-0, 1.17 ERA).

Downward facing oink:From pig yoga to farm animals: Get to know lighter side of the Super Team

Cooper on her start in softball, volleyball

The Braves have a home … finally

Indian Creek will play its first home game since May 20, 2021, when it debuts its brand-new ballpark on April 4 against Lutheran. The Braves were on the road or at a neutral site for all 22 games last season as the project was completed.

The Braves could make some noise this spring with Illinois State commit Alli Gavin coming off a strong summer behind the plate, plus freshman pitcher Delaney Jones eager to make a splash.

IC isn't the only area team debuting a new stadium. Plainfield christened its new, fully turfed fields with a 16-13 win over Terre Haute South on Tuesday. Freshman Ava Broyles hit a grand slam in her first career at-bat for the Quakers, who also got homers from Baleigh Adams, Kylie Fish and Laila Whitaker.

Softball Super Team:These aren't just best in Central Indiana, but some of best in U.S.

Zionsville's Sydny Poeck on her offseason focus

Audrey Lowry's footwork focus

Tri-West ace pitcher Audrey Lowry was vigilant of her workload this offseason, dedicating more time to strength-and-conditioning rather than repeated pitching. "It's more about getting stronger related to pitching," the Oklahoma commit said.

Another area of focus? Her footwork. Lowry spent a good amount of time working on her takeoff and landing, rather than her arsenal of pitches and the speed on her fastball, spending time with a trainer whose other clients include James Harden. It was about strengthening the "groundwork" of her pitches, she explained. "Pitches, they're very important, but first you have to have a good base in order to make them work."

Lowry — who finished last season 22-3 with a 0.42 ERA and 302 strikeouts for the Class 3A runner-up Bruins — will have a new catcher this season (Kendall Williams and Ava Sullivan are sharing duties), but her former catcher, 2022 grad McKenna Hagemier, will still be in the dugout as one of Mike Miller's assistant coaches.

Audrey Lowry on OU softball:'Whenever I thought about it, I had butterflies in my stomach'

Fab 15: Roncalli's No. 1 (duh), but there's no shortage of talent

Lowry on last season's Class 3A final

Saint Joseph freshman Berkley Zache and Tri-West sophomore Audrey Lowry, who engaged in arguably the greatest pitchers' duel in state championship game history last year: Eight-plus shutout innings, 241 pitches thrown (161 for strikes) and a whopping 42 combined strikeouts.

Lowry recorded a Class 3A championship game-record 22 strikeouts and did not allow a hit until the bottom of the ninth.

More:Tri-West vs. St. Joseph was arguably greatest pitchers' duel in IHSAA state finals history

Anna Mauck crosses state lines

The travel season was a bit "crazy" for Lawrence North junior Anna Mauck. The Kentucky-bound shortstop joined a travel team in Tennessee, meaning her weekends this summer were spent traveling across state lines for games and tournaments. "It's become the new norm," she said.

"I love meeting new people and traveling," she said. "(And) it's a whole different level of competition. … It's always cool to see and play against different people. You don't feel like you're playing the same team over and over again."

With regard to the level of competition, Mauck said she went against players committed to LSU, Florida State and Oklahoma (among others).

"Oh my gosh, I'm hitting off a girl committed to Oklahoma right now. It's just crazy," she continued. "I feel like the competition is so much better, so it's really cool being able to be out there and getting myself ready for college."

Kylee Edwards on this year's team, rituals

Roncalli in the record books

The two-time defending Class 4A champion Royals are coming off a historic season — first undefeated state champion since 2A's South Putnam (31-0, 2012) — and are well-positioned to continue breaking records (and winning games) in 2023.

Though not something they talk about, coach David Lauck made sure to highlight the team's successes during their year-end banquet over the summer, showing a video and delivering a speech about the team's magical run.

"That was the moment when I was like, 'Wow, this team can do some things. This is the best team I've ever been on in my life,'" senior Abbey Hofmann said. "And it's not even that this team is so athletic and so amazing at softball. It's that I've built so many relationships and friendships along the way. It's made the game so much more fun."

Roncalli's Lyla Blackwell, (left) Abbey Hofmann and Keagan Rothrock photographed on Friday, March 10, 2023 at The Indianapolis Star in Indianapolis.
Roncalli's Lyla Blackwell, (left) Abbey Hofmann and Keagan Rothrock photographed on Friday, March 10, 2023 at The Indianapolis Star in Indianapolis.

With the nation's top recruit (Florida commit Keagan Rothrock) and a roster chock full of Division I recruits, Roncalli is a win from matching Lake Central for the state's all-time longest win streak (47, 2004-05) and stands a very good chance of winning its third straight state championship.

Taken at face value, that would figure to create an immense amount of pressure. But that chemistry Hofmann referred to is another of this group's distinguishing features.

"Our team chemistry keeps everything lighter and makes it a more fun environment," Rothrock said. "We're lighthearted and we like to have fun. No one ever talks about the winning streak or last year or winning state or even getting to state. It's a game-by-game, day-by-day type thing."

More:Roncalli softball broke records, laughed a ton, shed tears and danced to another state title.

Odds-and-ends

∎ MaxPreps released its nationwide rankings earlier this week: Roncalli is (unsurprisingly) No. 1, with Tri-West checking in at No. 25. The Royals host the Bruins on April 13.

∎ With her commitment to Coastal Carolina, pitcher Malone Moore became the second female athlete from Beech Grove to commit to a Division I university in the past 20 years. The other? Purdue women's basketball coach Katie Gearlds.

This is just a fun fact: New Palestine pitcher Courtney Study is also running track for the Dragons.

Defending 3A state champion South Bend St. Joseph was the only team moved up due to the success factor this season, so hopes of a Lowry-Berkeley Zache rematch in the 3A final have been tabled.

∎ A couple relative newcomers: Purdue Poly is in its first season of IHSAA eligibility; Herron-Riverside enters its third season of IHSAA competition with six returning players, including three-year starter Stacey Karrick. Herron won its first-ever sectional game last season.

Follow Brian Haenchen on Twitter at @Brian_Haenchen.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Indiana high school softball storylines for 2023 season