MONROE CITY, Mo. – Every opponent knew what pitcher the Monroe City softball team would throw at them the last three years.
That pitcher was hard-throwing McKenzie West, an all-Clarence Cannon Conference pick. However, those opponents aren’t familiar with the Panthers’ pitchers with West now graduated.
Monroe City wants to use that to its advantage.
"We’ve got several pitchers this year," Monroe City softball coach Melissa Chinn said. "We just want to try to keep teams off balance and on their toes. It might not be a thing where a pitcher pitches the whole game, and I’m really confident in all of them."
Junior Riley Quinn returns with the most pitching experience as the Panthers’ No. 2 pitcher behind West last year. After her, Monroe City will likely use Madison Moss, Mackenzie Moss, Kailynn Fuemmler and Montana Masterson in the circle.
However, Quinn knew she’d likely be called upon to lead the pitching staff this season. She’s prepared for that.
"I just want to put my best game out there every game," Quinn said. "Coach wants that from all of us. She just wants us to go pitch our best."
Chinn has seen that preparation.
"I think she’s coming back better than ever," Chinn said. "She took the summer to figure some things out."
Those different looks at pitcher will be a strength for a Monroe City team coming off a 16-4 season where they won the Clarence Cannon Conference, but lost to Highland in the Class 2 District 6 championship game. Not only has West graduated, but so did catcher Rachel Smith, shortstop Skyler Kauble and outfielder Savannah Hetzler.
But the Panthers believe there are still pieces on the roster to make another run.
Having an NCAA Division I-bound player helps.
Lauren Youngblood, who was a first-team all-CCC pick last fall, returns at second base for Monroe City, and could also see time at shortstop. Youngblood committed to play softball at IUPUI in the offseason.
Junior Bailee Hays also returns, along with a handful of sophomores that saw playing time at the varsity level.
"I think a lot of people probably won’t think we’ll be where we were," Youngblood said. "I think we’re totally capable of it. We have a lot of really good players coming in that can fill those spots."
In some instances, multiple players might be playing in different spots. Chinn has had players move to different fielding positions during practices to get them used to playing those spots. Those may be necessary during the season.
"My thought is our pitchers may get hit more, so it puts players in a position that where the ball will hit toward," Chinn said. "I’ve got athletes I can move from position to position. Everybody can play anywhere, and I want to use that to our advantage."
The players aren’t bothered by it.
They just want to win.
"Obviously we want to go far in the playoffs," Youngblood said. "We’ll put in the work. I think we have the chance to win a district title."