PREP PROFILE: Eels know where they want their softball season to end

May 9—Jason Sinders is doing everything according to the book when it comes to his Clay City High School softball team, currently ranked No. 1 in Class A.

"Pitch by pitch, at-bat by at-bat, inning by inning, game by game," he said this week, emphasizing that his team is focused on the now and not looking ahead.

The problem? His three seniors have good memories.

Lexi Crabb, Hannah Harris and Lexi Thompson were already starters in the spring of 2021 when the Eels played in the state championship game against Northfield.

They want to do it again.

Crabb, the Eels' center fielder (and also the valedictorian of the Class of 2024) was the left fielder three years ago, having moved into the spot midway through the season after another Eel had suffered an injury.

Thompson and Harris were the Eels' third and fourth hitters as freshmen and remain the key bats in the lineup.

Thompson, the Clay City shortstop (her team-leading batting average in the .600 neighborhood), now bats second in the order.

Meanwhile, Harris — the team's catcher — hits third. Both have their college softball destinations in place, Thompson at Indiana Wesleyan and Harris at Danville Area Community College.

"[The year] 2021 was probably one of my best years hitting-wise," said Harris, one of five members of the Clay City lineup batting well above .400. "I really want to go to state again."

"I was really scared [three years ago], really intimidated," Thompson remembered. "But going through that as a freshman has helped me a great deal, and I hope I can help our younger players [if the situation arises later this spring]."

"So far, I think we're doing really good," added Crabb. "I'm excited for the postseason."

The Eels opened their season with an extra-inning win over Sullivan — another team with veterans who were starters in a state championship game in 2021 and who might also be thinking about going back. Since the Eels beat Barr-Reeve a few games later they've moved into the top spot in the state poll — possibly becoming the first Clay City team to be ranked first in the state.

"That's cool, but I don't think we should be thinking about that right now," said Crabb. "We want to make it all the way, but we have to keep working hard."

"I think [the ranking is] pretty cool, and I hope it stays that way," added Harris. "But we have to prove ourselves, because there's a large target on our back."

"I feel like [being ranked No. 1] helps us," said Thompson. "It makes us work harder to keep it . . . we want to play as long as we can."

Not only are the Eels blessed with a good senior nucleus, but they also have a lot of coaching experience. Sinders' assistants are Roger Rhodes, a former Clay City head coach; Harley Skinner, a former head coach at Avon (and Sinders' daughter); and Raven Hyde, a former Eel player.

It's a team built around power, with junior Lizzy Sinders (the coach's other daughter) and sophomores Karlee Smith and Faith Mitchell the other .400 hitters in the lineup. Junior Abi Shearer (whose father Brian Shearer is the head coach at Rose-Hulman) and sophomore Kam Rhodes (Roger's niece) are other power hitters, while freshman Ellie Stoelting and sophomore Caroline Rexrode are good at playing small ball. Freshman Ashley Harrison and Gracelynn Patton are the reserves — and that's all of them. The top-ranked team in the state has a 12-player roster that was 11 for awhile after Patton suffered an injury.

"We've got what we've got," coach Sinders says, "and the ones we've got are pretty serious about having fun with the rest of them."

The Eels have been good for awhile, so their 14-1 record going into a Thursday game against Linton was not a surprise.

"We had everybody back [from last season]," Jason Sinders pointed out. "Our goal is to go into every game and try to win every game. Everybody is getting along, they work hard, they have a lot of energy and they're pleasant to be around. They just want to play."

And for as long as possible, like Thompson said.

"I think we have the ability. We just have to keep playing our game," the shortstop concluded.