Brayden Leather, Herald-Mail Sports, 2/28/19
In 2018, the Hagerstown Community College softball team enjoyed a strong first season under coach Jenna Knable.
The Hawks reached 20 wins for the first time since 2014 — when Knable was the Hawks' freshman infielder — qualifying for the NJCAA Division II Region XX tournament.
With a strong mix of freshmen and returning sophomores, the Hawks look to better last spring's 24-17 record and play deeper in the region tournament.
"With the group of freshmen we have coming in, everybody fits in really well. They meshed well and get along," Knable said. "They're a strong group of softball players who love working hard and love getting better."
HCC will rely on pitching and team depth to be successful on the field. But off it, the tight-knit Hawks are already ahead of the curve.
"We all really get along. We always hang out outside of practice. It's always 'Hey, what are you doing? Want to go get lunch today?' We're always together doing something," sophomore pitcher Emily Talbert said. "I had a lot of fun playing last year with these girls so I'm excited to go out again and play with some of my really good friends."
The Hawks' schedule consists entirely of doubleheaders, including an in-season tournament.
HCC opens the season on Sunday as part of a four-day mixer in Myrtle Beach, S.C. before returning home for consecutive Maryland JUCO Conference twinbills against Chesapeake and College of Southern Maryland.
HCC will cap its first week home by hosting a round-robin tournament at Kemps Mill Complex in Williamsport on March 16-17.
"I'm a product of the Maryland JUCO and our biggest rivals then, and I still consider them now, were Chesapeake and Catonsville," Knable said. "They were always one of the tougher teams, Potomac State as well.
"Doubleheaders are great. You get in there and knock them out but as you get deeper into the season, I always say the best conditioned teams and the one with the least amount of injuries wins, so maintaining that depth and not allowing injuries to really affect us will be important."
The Hawks' roster is filled with area talent. Many of the players are familiar with Knable.
"I worked at Extra Innings while they were in Hagerstown so I got to watch a lot of these players grow up through that system," Knable said.
"They're not that much younger than me but they were still coming in there taking pitching lessons, and some of them, I was friends with their families. So it is really exciting for me to get out here and watch these girls play and do what they have loved for most of their life."
HCC's roster features three catchers, which gives Knable some flexibility.
Maddi Renn (Williamsport), a sophomore whose team-leading .484 average last season earned her a spot on the All-Region XX first team, will lead the trio. Lily Oliver (Spring Mills) and Madalyn Kershner (Smithsburg) also will see time behind the plate.
Oliver and Kershner also give the Hawks options at third base in addition to Cierra Beaver (Williamsport).
Talbert (Williamsport) and Kaitlin Wolfe (South Hagerstown) will split time at first.
Bachtell will be used in a utility role.
Madison Baker (Southern Fulton), Haylee White (Williamsport), Elizabeth Churchman (Waynesboro), Madeline Miller (Clear Spring), and Payton Smith (Boonsboro) will be the primary outfield options for the Hawks.
The Hawks will carry a staff of five pitchers, led by Talbert, who was 7-5 in 24 appearances (18 starts) with a 3.72 ERA and 106 strikeouts in 113 innings last season, earning a spot on the all-region second team.
The pitching staff includes Beaver — another all-region second-team selection — McDonough, Smith and Wolfe.
"I would say at each spot we have really good talent. There's not a spot that we're weak in," McDonough said. "Our lineup is very strong top to bottom and we have better pitching depth this year."
The Hawks are scheduled to face Bryant & Stratton College, a Division II program from Milwaukee, in their opener at the Myrtle Beach mixer on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. HCC's home opener will be a 3 p.m. doubleheader against Chesapeake on March 12.