The Hillsboro Hawks softball team is in the midst of a terrific run. The squad has had 20-plus wins in the last four seasons, along with a state Final Four appearance in 2018. The Hawks have also won four district titles in the last five years. Since 2016, head coach Kevin Lucas has guided the team to an 87-31 record.
Lucas said there’s really no secret formula. “I think most of our success comes from just trying to build the mindset that we have a good program,” he explained. “We seem to always get a good mix of older and younger girls, which really helps girls see what is expected early in their high school career. We tend to have freshmen and sophomores starting, so by the time they are juniors or seniors, they are able to really be good team leaders.”
And that’s why, after a 20-10 season and a district title in 2019, and losing four seniors, three of which will be playing softball at junior colleges this school year, there’s no panic when looking at the current Hawks’ roster. Thirteen girls return from last year, including eight seniors. And that means business as usual for the Hawks.
“We are bringing back a lot of girls from last year, so I expect us to be very competitive,” the head coach stated. “Having that experience should help us when it comes to the big games, especially post-season play. As always, our goals will be to win conference, win districts, and then make a run in the state playoffs.”
The Hawks return eight girls that started and played key roles on the 2019 district championship team. Those are Alanah Dunphy (SS), Ellie Bartlett (C), Ryleigh Hindle (LF), Alex Wick (P), Nicole Evans (2B), Elly Eckrich (P), Hailey Genge (1B), and Kora King (RF). All but Eckrich, Genge, and King are seniors. “I expect those girls to step up even more this year, and continue to build on what we were doing last year,” Lucas noted. “Bringing back that many girls with that much experience is great, but we still have some key positions that we need to replace from last year’s graduating seniors.”
Those positions would be catcher, third base and center field. Those spots were occupied by Julz Johnson, Amber Cage, and Bailey Shuman respectively. Lucas said it will take the early season to find the right mix. “We’ll have to figure out who can fill in some of the holes we have right now, some from graduation, and some from having a few girls injured,” he confessed. “So I think that will be a work in progress for a while, or at least until we get some of those girls healthy.”
Some of the returnees put up some gaudy numbers in 2019. Bartlett “raked” to the tune of a .457 average, with seven home runs and 25 RBI. Dunphy comes off a season where she hit .389 and drove home a team high 29 runs. Eckrich hit well in the clutch, driving home 24 runs. But she did a ton of damage to opponents from within the circle. She went 12-5 with a 2.25 ERA and 138 strikeouts. Opponents hit just .184 against her, and she should be even better this year with the experience gained last year. Wick forms a tough one-two punch as she hurled eight wins for the Hawks in 2019.
There are some new faces to this year’s team, despite all the returnees. Lucas believes there could be some big contributions from those new to the Hawks. “We have some newcomers this year that could really help us in some way once we can see a little more. We have a couple transfers from Indiana in sisters Jenna Clay (senior) and Abby Clay (senior), along with Autumn Brewer (junior) coming from DeSoto. We also have a really good group of younger girls that could help us in freshmen Lauren Nichols, Chloe Hicks, and Peyton Uphoff.”
And it’s well known that the Hawks never shy away from playing the top competition in the area. This year is no different. The team will open on August 28 at the Peoples Bank Back to School Softball Classic hosted by Sullivan High School. The complete schedule can be found here: 2020 Hillsboro Softball Schedule