Thursday, June 25th, 2009
By Gary R. Rasberry
Crowell, Thornsberry and Esselstein take top honors in Grand Lake area
  In softball, the pitcher is usually the best all-around athlete on the team, not only dominating in the pitching circle, but also carrying a big bat at the plate.
St. Marys' Kayla Thornsberry and Parkway's Emily Crowell have proved to be the go-to players for their successful teams this season.
After some debate, it was decided that the two pitchers would share The Daily Standard's Softball Player of the Year honors after helping their teams to strong seasons.
The Coach of the Year honor was much easier, as Mark Esselstein led a young group - a sophomore battery and several underclassmen in the field - to a second straight Division IV regional runner-up finish after winning the program's eighth Midwest Athletic Conference title.
For the recently graduated Thornsberry, the season was a triumphant return after missing a majority of the 2008 season after dislocating her kneecap against Bath. Thornsberry went 6-1 before sitting out the rest of the season with the injury.
"I just worked very hard trying to get back to the speed I was at, because at the end of my sophomore year, I was throwing probably the best I ever thrown," said Thornsberry. "I wanted to keep that up and be as dominant as I was out there."
In 2009, Thornsberry returned with a vengeance, throwing 158 of the team's 165 innings - younger sister Erika threw the other seven - and scattered just 72 hits and 27 walks over the span, a WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) of 0.63. Thornsberry, who will head to Cedarville University next season, went 18-7 with a 0.71 ERA and struck out 162 batters, an average of 1.03 strikeouts per inning pitched. The Roughriders lost to Bath 2-1 in the Division II district semifinals and were a top-10 team in the state coaches' poll for most of the season.
Thornsberry also produced at the plate, batting .359 with 12 RBI and two home runs.
"Once the season gets started, you get used to pitching every day," said Thornsberry. "You start getting more strength and get into a groove. It all kind of clicks together and you throw pretty well."
Thornsberry leaves St. Marys holding a number of season and career records, including recording 466 career strikeouts and a 47-9 record her last three seasons on the mound.
Crowell, a first-team selection to the All-Area team as a freshman last season, continued to be the MAC's best pitcher and one of its heaviest hitters.
The sophomore southpaw went 12-4 on the mound this season with a 1.28 ERA and 130 strikeouts in just 982/3 innings for the Panthers (1.32 strikeouts per nine innings). At the plate, Crowell proved to be a clutch hitter, batting .474, striking out just seven times in 76 at-bats, belting four home runs, three triples and eight doubles while driving in an area-best 28 runs.
"It was great. I felt we had to go into practice and work hard, and we would have a chance to make it back and go even farther," said Crowell, talking about a return trip to the regional tournament for the second straight year. "I knew we had to get to work."
Crowell is ready to get back to work for next season.
"We have a lot of people back," said Crowell. "I know we can be good and get back to the same spot next year and go further. It makes you want to work even harder."
Hall of Famer Esselstein still bringing success
Esselstein, the only head softball coach Parkway has ever had, capped off a successful school year in which he was inducted in the Ohio High School Fastpitch Softball Coaches Association's Hall of Fame before the season began. Esselstein led a young team that featured three sophomores and two juniors in the starting lineup to go along with veteran seniors Jamie Guggenbiller, Chelsie O'Neill, Katlyn Smith and Hannah Beougher.
"This year's sophomores, especially Emily and Megan (catcher Megan Ketchum), got a ton of experience last year in going to the regional finals," said Esselstein. "You can't substitute or simulate in practice playing in those kind of big games. I think the success they had carried over.
"Morgan Cron, our other sophomore (in the 2009 lineup), got more playing time at the end of last year, so it wasn't a total shot in the dark in how they would do. Then (junior) Lindsay Shellabarger (the other junior being Danielle Matthews) got at-bats down the stretch last season, so what she was able to do wasn't a total surprise. Plus we had a significant amount of our juniors this year played on a successful junior varsity team the previous year. We knew we had a good crew coming back."
The end result was a 17-6 season, a 7-1 record in the MAC for an outright title, the eighth overall for the program, ranked fourth in the final Division IV state coaches poll, and a second straight trip to the Huber Heights Regional, losing to Ansonia 3-0 in the final.
"A lot of ways, it's tougher to repeat (going to regionals) because there are a lot of tough teams in the area," said Esselstein. "Just getting out of sectionals with the MAC teams is tough because those teams know you so well. We feel fortunate to be able to survive that.
"We have a good nucleus to have a real good season next year, although odds are we'll be Division III, looking ahead on enrollment. That presents some obstacles because Archbold (which beat Parkway in the regular season) has an impressive team and has eight of nine starters back and went to the regional finals in Division III. That's putting the cart ahead of the horse."

The 2009 Daily Standard All-Area Softball Team:
OUTFIELD
Michelle Griesdorn
New Bremen
.443 avg, 3 HR
OUTFIELD
Teresa Hess
Coldwater
.366 avg, 25 runs
OUTFIELD
Megan Schlater
St. Marys
.372 avg, 20 runs
SHORTSTOP
Bailey Smith
St. Marys
.494 avg, 26 RBI
SHORTSTOP
Audrey Harner
Celina
.525 avg, 26 SB
SECOND BASE
Rachel Borgerding
St. Henry
.360 avg, 19 RBI
THIRD BASE
Macy Ferrall
St. Marys
.409 avg, 15 runs
FIRST BASE
Erika Thornsberry
St. Marys
.481 avg, 29 RBI
PITCHER
Emily Crowell
Parkway
12-4, 1.28 ERA
.474 avg, 28 RBI
PITCHER
Kayla Thornsberry
St. Marys
18-7, 0.71 ERA
.359 avg, 2 HR
PITCHER
Michelle Stout
St. Henry
15-7, 1.04 ERA
DH/DP
Haley Stucke
Coldwater
.455 avg, 27 runs
CATCHER
Becca Dwenger
New Bremen
.356 avg, 8 doubles

Softball Dream Team Second Team:
CATCHER
Megan Ketchum
Parkway
.319 avg, 16 RBI
FIRST BASE
Katlyn Smith
Parkway
.275, 10 RBI
SECOND BASE
Abbey Zacharias
Celina
.358 avg, 10 runs
SHORTSTOP
Kenzie Bruggeman
St. Henry
.459 avg, 26 runs
THIRD BASE
Samantha Bertke
Celina
.379 avg, 5 doubles
OUTFIELD
Sam Davenport
St. Marys
.346 avg, 18 RBI
OUTFIELD
Christine Thobe
Celina
.347 avg, 11 RBI
OUTFIELD
Robin Buschur
Coldwater
.308 avg, 11 RBI
DH/DP
Ellen Mescher
Marion Local
.375 avg, .478 OBP
PITCHER
Jodi Otte
Marion Local
9-6, 2.01 ERA
PITCHER
Megan Stueve
Minster
7-7, 1.04 ERA
PITCHER
Stacy Timmerman
New Bremen
8-4, 1.75 ERA
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