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Softball opens season 1-1, Eyes Big 12 redemption

2024 season preview
Community opened the softball season with a 10-1 win over the Pekin Dragons on Monday. The Iron won’t fact conference action until April 6, when they take on Champaign Central in a double-header. Photo Courtesty: Mr. Jeff Christopherson

Community opened the softball season 1-1 in non-conference action, following Monday’s 10-1 victory over the Lincoln Railsplitters with a 15-5 loss to the Pekin Dragons. 

Under third-year head coach Mr. Steve Hassel, the team is looking to improve on last season’s second-place Big 12 Conference finish, going 9-1 in conference play and 20-15 overall.  

For the last decade, Hassel said, the Big 12 Title race has “come down to the Normal West-Normal Community game.” 

Last season, West was victorious, handing Community a 16-1 loss. 

“Nine of the last 10 years, that game has determined the Championship,” the coach expects April 30’s contest against the Wildcats to have the same implications. 

Community will rely on the veteran core’s pitching this season with hopes of recapturing the Big 12.

“We have 13 returning varsity players,” Hassel said, “[we’ve] got some experience coming back.”

Taking the mound for the Iron are seniors Tessa Bittner and Lindsay Leathery and juniors Ava Prevo and Avery Anderson. 

Last season, Bittner was sidelined with a shoulder injury, which limited her to 12 mound appearances. 

The Illinois Wesleyan commit posted a 3.78 ERA in limited action, allowing 56 hits over 50 innings and recording just under three strikeouts per walk surrendered. 

In 106 innings, Leathery recorded 55 strikeouts while walking 21, finishing the season with a 4.48 ERA.

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  • Tessa Bittner, in 50 innings last season, allowed 27 earned runs. In just 12 appearances, Bittner recorded a team-second 39 Ks. As a junior, control was sometimes a struggle as Bittner lead the team with 17 wild pitches.

  • Linsday Leathery was the Iron’s innings-eater last season with 159. Opponents hit .326 against Leathery as a junior. Leathery averaged just under one strike out per nine batters. To open 2024, the senior has struck out eight over five innings.

As sophomores, Prevo and Anderson combined to surrender 50 hits and record 22 strikeouts over 28 innings. 

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  • In five innings, Avery Anderson allowed four hits last season, allowing one earned run and striking out seven.

  • In 11 appearances last season, Ava Prevo allowed 28 earned runs, striking out 15 and walking 15 over 23 innings.

“If one of those four,” Hassel said, particularly the seniors, “really step up, we have a chance to be pretty good.” 

If the pitchers can record the strikeout numbers they are capable of, “double-digit batters, 10 plus,” Hassel said, then the Iron wouldn’t “have to field plays to get outs. We get easy outs rather than more difficult outs.”

The pitching staff will first have to get comfortable with a new battery-mates behind the plate in Maggie Kelley and Kylee Anderson, as three-year varsity starter at catcher Lexi Corcoran is now behind the plate at the University of Maine.

Last season as a senior, Corcoran was a near-perfect fielder, boasting a .990 fielding percentage from the backstop. 

Kelley has opened the 2024 season hitting .429, recording three hits in seven at-bats and driving in two.

“Maggie Kelley got a little bit of varsity time last year,” Hassel said.

She played in 10 games, recorded a 1.000 fielding percentage and had two hits out of 12 at-bats.

Corcoran, Hassel said, leaves “some big shoes to fill.” 

How do the Ironmen hope to fill the void on offense with the graduations of Emma Conover, Skylar Dixon, IWU’s Annika Brown and Carlie Russell?

“The short answer,” Hassel said, “is I don’t know.”

Hassel said that the graduates are “hard to replace.”

Conover led the team on the plate last season, batting .439 and driving in 31 runs. 

Brown was second on the team in RBI with 27, hitting 0.351.

And while the Iron hit above .300 as a team last season, Hassel said, they also “had quite a bit of power.”

The team totaled 14 home runs last season, slugging 0.435. 

“I don’t think we’re going to have as much power as last year,” Hassel said.

Seven of the team’s long balls came from the combo of Dixon, Brown and Conover, with Dixon posting a team-leading four homers.

Brown and Russell were also proven small ball players. They led the team in sacrifice bunts and combined to advance 15 runners.


Small ball will be the key to the Iron offense this season.

“We may see more singles and doubles,” this season said Hassel, “than home runs and triples. But I expect good things out of our order.” 

Damery is hitting .429 after two games, with three hits and a sacrifice bunt.

Carson Damery will lead off the order. 

Damery, Hassel said, brings speed and versatility to the lineup. 

“She’s fast, and she can do a lot of things,” Hassel said.  

Last season, the All-Stater swiped 15 bags and caught just twice. She used her speed to stretch doubles into triples, leading the team with three.

She isn’t just fast, but patient.

Damery drew a team-leading 19 walks last season. 

And she can hit. Leading the team in plate appearances, Damery was second in average (.430), hits (46) and fifth in RBI (17).

“We’re going to look different,” Hassel said, “but I think we’ll be okay hitting.”

That confidence is perhaps bolstered by the offensive production of players like Kyle Anderson, Tatum Yokley, Kate Oyler and Tessa Bittner in limited plate appearances last season.

Anderson averaged .404 in 26 games with one home run, slugging .543; Yokley had five hits in 15 at-bats, driving in four; Oyler batted .365, going 8/22; and Bittner hit .317 and launched two long balls, leading the team’s returners.

“Bittner has some power,” Hassel said. 

But he wouldn’t be surprised to see some big swings from Maggie Kelley or Madison Ummel, either. 

“They have the potential to hit it over the fence,” Hassel said.

Yokley will have to wait for her turn at the plate this season. The junior is sidelined recovering from an injury sustained during the basketball season. 

“She probably would have been in the starting lineup,” Hassel said, “but her knee’s got a heal.”

Freshman Bailey Engel has opened the year batting .333, good for fourth after two games.

The varsity roster’s lone freshman, Bailey Engel, is filling in for Yokley at second base. 

She’ll have plenty of swings at the plate before Community take on the Wildcats at West on April 30.

Community is looking to avenge their run-rule loss and reclaim the Big 12 title. 

Last season, against the Cats, Community’s roster wasn’t at full strength with starters injured and Damery ill. 

“Even if we had everybody, we were going to have to play really, really well to beat them,” Hassel said. 

The Iron’s chances are better this season. 

“They were senior-laden team,” the coach said. “Almost every one of their starters was a senior.” 

To win the Big 12, Hassel said, Commnuity will “have to step up. We’re going to hope that they aren’t as good as they were last year.” 

Clinching the conference, the coach said, will probably require a “combination of both.”

While the team is eyeing a conference title, a truly successful season, the coach said, would mean a Regional win. 

“We haven’t won a Regional in a number of years,” Hassel said.

The Iron’s last Regional victory came in 2015 under head coach Bob Grimes. 

In 15 seasons under Grimes, the Iron went 421-109, winning nine Regionals and making three State Finals appearances. 

When the softball program was “really, really good,” Hassel said, the team consistently was “winning Regionals, winning Sectionals.” 

That is the standard of success he’d like to see the program return to. 

This year’s schedule should offer the caliber of competition the Iron need to make a Regional win a reality. 

This season, the team will take on opponents with proven post-season success in Chatham Glenwood, Tolono Unity, Yorkville and Metamora; 

“We’re playing almost every quadrant of the state,” Hassel said. 

Glenwood went 29-2 last season, winning a Regional title in 3A. 

In Class 2A, Tolono has posted a combined 81-23 record the last three years, finishing 4th in the State in 2021 and 3rd in ’22. 

Yorkville was the State runners-up in Class 4A last season with a 36-3 record. The team has gone a combined 88-14 in the last three seasons. 

The Redbirds of Metamora clinched two consecutive 3A Sectional titles, going 61-10 along the way. 

Last season, the powerhouse outscored their opponents by 200 runs, allowing one run or fewer in 24 games. 

Hassel said that the measure of the softball program’s success goes beyond just titles and records; it can be seen in the roster’s academic success.

For the second straight season, Hassel said, each of the team’s seniors is on the high honor roll. 

The 2-0 Iron head to Mundelein this afternoon to take on the 1-0 Mustangs in non-conference play. 

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About the Contributors
Bayli Ferris
Bayli Ferris, Staff Writer
Bayli Ferris is a senior at Normal Community High School where she's involved in clubs such as Generations Connect and Younglife. This is her first year as an Inkspot staff writer.  I like Phoebe Bridgers, ice cream and warm weather. On the weekend I like to get coffee with my dad and hang out with friends. My favorite movie is The Edge of Seventeen.
Leonor Rivas
Leonor Rivas, Staff Writer
Leonor Rivas is a junior at Normal Community High School. She is a first-year staff writer for the Inkspot. My favorite film is "Heathers." A book that moved me is "One For Sorrow."
Brody Roberts
Brody Roberts, Staff Writer
Brody Roberts is a junior at Normal Community High School and is involved in track and field. This is his first year working with the Inkspot, and he is a staff writer.  What inspires me is my family and to make them proud. My favorite movie is “Oppenheimer.”
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