The Lady Knights went 17-14 and earned a spot in the Class A private school elite eight in Columbus, where their state title quest ended early with a couple of losses.
For coach Kris Palmerton, the ’12 campaign was a big step forward for the Pace softball program.
“It was really kind of neat,” Palmerton said. “Sometimes, you say you have to learn how to win first. Certainly, we were able to do that last year and that experience certainly raised the bar coming into this year.”
With most of his players returning from last year’s state finals team and ready to go after a productive offseason, Palmerton said his Lady Knights are looking better than ever.
“We have a lot of kids coming back and what [advancing to the state finals] did is a lot of girls played all summer. The first day of practice, I told [assistant] coach [Courtney] Morrison, ‘It’s like we picked up where we left off last year.’ We certainly went right into team drills and getting ready for our scrimmage [last Tuesday] against Blessed Trinity. Everyone knows what they’ve got to do to get back [to the state finals]. It’s definitely made us better.”
Pace is especially boosted by the return of its formidable pitching duo of juniors Lane Dikeman and Maryellen Malone.
The Lady Knights also return junior shortstop Lauren Hadley, the team’s leading hitter and a Region 5A first-team All-Region selection.
“We’re expecting a big season from her,” Palmerton said.
Sophomore catcher Sarah Werner was Pace’s second leading hitter last year and she returns to provide some power at the clean-up spot of the batting order.
Junior centerfielder Nora Harlin, an All-Region selection in 2012, also comes back to provide a veteran presence to an otherwise young outfield.
“She’s a very solid player,” Palmerton said. “She will have a freshman and a sophomore to her right and left in the outfield, so we look for her to really capture that outfield.”
The coach said he will be relying especially on his junior quartet of Dikeman, Malone, Hadley and Harlin.
“My juniors are really the core,” he said. “Fortunately, they’ve been to two state playoffs. In their freshman year, we lost in the first round and last year, they went all the way to the elite eight as sophomores. So, they’re really the core group.”
The Lady Knights will once again compete in a formidable Region 5A — where they finished second in the regular-season standings last year — that includes fellow state finals qualifiers Eagle’s Landing Christian and Strong Rock Christian as well as local rival Holy Innocents’.
“I think we can be anywhere from first to fourth in the region,” Palmerton said. “Our region is so strong. Eagle’s Landing [Christian] is, to me, probably the best team, but Strong Rock, Holy Innocents’ and Landmark [Christian] are very solid as well.”